HOUSTON — Texas Rangers pitchers struck out too many Houston hitters in the three-game series to recall all of them.
But the first two of the season for Alexi Ogando were huge Wednesday.
Ogando struck out Carlos Pena and Chris Carter in the first inning with Jose Altuve on third base to keep the Astros off the board in a scoreless game.
It was a sign of things to come as Ogando set a career high with 10 strikeouts and the Rangers won 4-0 to take the first series of the year against their new American League West foe.
Ogando combined with four relievers to complete the second-consecutive shutout of the Astros. The five combined to strike out 15 Astros, giving the Rangers 43 strikeouts for the series. It’s the most by a major-league team in the first three games of the season, breaking the mark of 42 set by the 1966 Cleveland Indians.
Joe Nathan gave the team the record by striking out the side in the ninth.
“A.J. (Pierzynski) said ‘Do you want the ball?’ and I said I didn’t need it,” said Nathan, who had no idea the club had set a record.
While Nathan gave the Rangers the record, it was Ogando’s start that was the key.
The right-hander, who is back in the rotation after spending last season in the bullpen, pitched 6 1/3 innings of four-hit ball and walked just one batter. That walk, to Brett Wallace in the third inning, brought manager Ron Washington to the mound for words of encouragement. It worked as Ogando got a ground out after that and retired nine-consecutive hitters.
“He was outstanding,” said manager Ron Washington, whose team registered consecutive shutouts for the first time since the summer of 2011. “We were looking for him to go out there and continue to build on the process he was in during spring training and he went out there and did exactly what we needed to do, keep us in the ballgame.”
Ogando had to be sharp as the Rangers didn’t score a run against Philip Humber until the sixth inning. He was up to the task.
Ogando said he fed off Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game Tuesday night and it worked. He also had the ability to get the big strikeout when needed, becoming the third Texas starter in the series to either match or set a career high for strikeouts in a game.
He allowed the double to Altuve to start the first inning and Altuve moved to third on a grounder. But that’s when Ogando was able to mix the changeup, fastball and slider against a young, aggressive Houston team to get the strikeout when needed.
“I just focused on throwing quality pitches and I meant to strike them out,” Ogando said. “I was able to execute my pitches and I had good results.”
So did the Texas offense, which for the second-consecutive day started slow. The Rangers got their first run on a double-play grounder but were able to give the pitchers some cushion with three runs in the eighth inning.
An RBI double from Lance Berkman got the scoring started and Nelson Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski also brought home runs.
Berkman, who lives in Houston, went 1 for 2 with two walks and now has a 15-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park. The new Ranger designated hitter is feeling comfortable in his new surroundings and is happy he’s not facing the Texas pitching staff.
“It looks good to me,” Berkman said of the pitching. “We knew coming in that we had some guys that have terrific stuff. I think you saw that. It was a good start for everybody. I know the first night was a little disappointing but we came back and won the next two ballgames and I think we showed that we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”