Astros assured of another series win, go for sweep of O’s

HOUSTON — Before Houston Astros ace right-hander Justin Verlander could settle in and pitch his club to a series victory against Baltimore, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop ambushed him.

And after the Astros forged ahead to present Verlander the lead, he scuffled again, allowing a second home run, this one to Adam Jones, to put the Astros at a deficit again.

It didn’t matter.

Houston (5-1) claimed its second consecutive series victory to open defense of its World Series title by slugging its way to a 10-6 victory, setting the stage for a sweep of the Orioles (1-4) on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park. Verlander finished with nine strikeouts but wasn’t sharp, allowing four runs while failing to escape the sixth inning. The offense bailed him out.

While six Astros scored, right fielder Josh Reddick (2-for-4, six RBIs) and Carlos Correa (2-for-2 with three RBIs and three runs) carried the load. Correa did so on a cranky left big toe, delivering an inside-the-park home run in the first inning and a sacrifice fly in the third.

Correa departed prior to the eighth inning and, with a scheduled day off Thursday, will not participate in the series finale.

“He played uncomfortable,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of Correa, who reached via a walk in the seventh inning just prior to Reddick smacking a grand slam. “It doesn’t look like it sometimes, especially when he has an inside-the-park home run, but he was still pretty uncomfortable. Once we got the lead like that (10-5) it was pretty easy to take him out.”

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 4.50 ERA) will make his second start of the season and first at Minute Maid Park, where he is 36-21 with a 2.87 ERA over 80 career appearances (74 starts). Keuchel has made six prior appearances against the Orioles, all starts, going 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA. He faced Baltimore once last season, allowing one run on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts over six innings in a 5-2 win at Minute Maid Park on May 27.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Dylan Bundy (0-0, 0.00 ERA) as he makes his second start with an extra day of rest. Bundy worked seven shutout innings on Opening Day against Minnesota, allowing five hits and one walk while recording seven strikeouts in a no-decision.

Bundy is 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA over two career appearances (one start) against the Astros. He did not factor in the decision in his lone start against Houston last season despite allowing seven runs on eight hits (including two homers) and three walks with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. The Orioles recorded a 9-7 win at Houston on July 23.

Right-hander Mike Wright Jr., made what might amount to a spot start on Tuesday. Baltimore is anticipating the return of right-hander Alex Cobb perhaps as early as next week. Cobb, a free-agent signee during the offseason, is scheduled to pitch a five-inning simulated game Wednesday, with a final decision on his status beyond that likely to come this weekend.

“It’s mostly from him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the decision. “He’s veteran enough and he’s pitched enough innings. I watched his last outing. Most is going to come from what Alex is telling us. He’s very mature about it.”