HOUSTON — The Astros entered their decisive series with their American League West division rivals Texas in need of a jolt, something to snap them from their recent doldrums and the Rangers' dominance of the series.
The Astros (57-52) had lost nine of 10 against the Rangers before coasting to a 5-0 victory in the opener Friday night. But their inability to succeed against Texas, as opposed to their 11-1 mark against the Angels, was something worthy of discussion with the division up for grabs.
“I think in a lot of ways you just have to play the game,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I don't think they're all related. I scoff at the idea of them having our number of the next time we play the Angels that they're automatic wins. The fact that you've got to play the whole schedule, you've got to figure out ways to match up against them. This is a different team from when we played them earlier. We're a different team.
“Regardless of how we've gotten here they're in sight. The challenge to beat them remains the same as it does whether they've beaten us nine out of 10 or we've beaten them eight out of 10.”
Right-hander Doug Fister (10-7, 3.56 ERA) returns from the paternity list to start for the Astros. Fister is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in two road starts against the Rangers this season and 5-5 with a 4.88 ERA in 12 career starts against Texas.
The Rangers (63-47) counter with right-hander Lucas Harrell (3-2, 3.57 ERA with the Braves and Rangers), who makes his second career start with Texas on Saturday. It will mark his first career appearance against the Astros, for whom Harrell made 77 appearances from 2011-14.
Texas has yet to fully discover its offensive stride following the non-waiver trade deadline acquisitions of Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy. Beltran, who started as the designated hitter for a fourth consecutive game, finished 1-for-4 on Friday night. He will start in right field Saturday for the first time with the Rangers.
Lucroy was given the night off but will return behind the plate Saturday to catch Harrell. Lineup maneuverings aside, the Rangers need more of an offensive punch than they mustered against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who tossed a three-hit shutout in the series opener.
“I think it was more of a story that they were able to get him a lead,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said of Keuchel. “You get a guy of his caliber some runs to work with he can go to work. He was able to pound the strike zone, which early on our guys felt like we had a nice patient approach against Keuchel. First we got a little impatient for the last out of the first and also on the double-play ball. Look that's what he does.
“He can induce the groundball. I mean 19 groundball outs tonight, 16 of which were on the pull side which tells me that he was able to put the fastball where he wanted to, kept us off-balance with the slider.”