Astros face Diamondbacks after Cole’s 16 strikeouts

PHOENIX — For his work Friday, Houston right-hander Gerrit Cole was presented with two capes.

One for outstanding pitcher.

One for outstanding hitter.

Cole struck out a career-high 16 in his first career shutout, an 8-0 one-hitter over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first game of a three-game series Friday. That took care of one cape. He also struck out five times, for the other.

“Twenty-one strikeouts,” he said jokingly.

“I’m going to wear them both.”

Cole, in his first season after being acquired for a four-player package from Pittsburgh in the winter, gave up only one walk and Chris Owings‘ one-out double in the fifth inning while dropping his ERA to 1.42.

The Astros will send another of their caped crusaders, Charlie Morton and his 1.72 ERA, to face Zack Greinke (3-2. 4.50) in the second game of the series Saturday. Arizona, which won its first nine series, is in danger of losing two straight.

Justin Verlander, the ace acquired last July 31, is to start the final game for the Astros Sunday.

“We knew we acquired an ace,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said of Gerrit. “He’s really good. It wasn’t as if there was a ton of fixing going on, as much as we tried to refine little tweaks here and there. He’s come out and embraced everything, from being on a new team to pitching fourth in the rotation to taking the ball every five days and preparing like an ace.

“He is. He just happens to pitch deeper in our rotation. I can’t imagine too many people have been better than him all year.”

Cole was at his full-mix best Friday, using a fastball that hit 99 mph twice on his last batter while mixing in his curve ball early in counts and his slider late to keep Arizona off balance.

He has four double-digit strikeout games in seven starts this season and leads the majors with 77, the most in major league history for a player in his first seven starts with a new team. Chris Sale had 73 with Boston last year.

“We’ve had a ton of consecutive really good pitching performances this year, and none is going to top that to this point.

“Wow. It’s hard to describe.”

Houston made its offensive slump against the Yankees look like a mirage in its first game in Arizona. The first four batters had 11 hits, eight runs and seven RBIs, giving Cole a 7-0 lead in the fourth inning.

“The whole energy level picks up when we hit, and the pitchers feed off that, too,” Hinch said.

The Diamondbacks will turn to Greinke to break a three-game losing streak, their longest of the season. They have scored three runs in their last three games and seven in their last four.

Greinke is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in three starts at home after going a major league-best 13-1 at home in 2017. He struck out a season-high 10 in his last outing, when he gave up four hits and two runs in six inning of a no-decision against the Dodgers, a game the Diamondbacks won 8-5.

Greinke beat the Astros in his one start against them last year, giving up five hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out nine in a 2-0 victory in Phoenix Aug. 14. He is 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA in nine career starts against the Astros.

Morton is 4-0 and eighth in the majors with his 1.72 ERA in six starts this season. That includes five quality starts, after winning a career-high 14 games in the 2017 regular season. He pitched the final four innings for the victory in the Astros’ 5-1 win in Game 7 of the World Series last year.

He struck out 10 in his most recent start, a 2-1 victory over the Yankees on Monday in which he went a season-long 7 2/3 innings and gave up a season-low two hits. He made one road start this season, throwing seven shutout innings in a 9-2 victory over Seattle on April 19.

Morton is 4-1 with a 3.57 ERA in seven career starts against Arizona. He won his lone appearance against them last year,striking out nine in 6 1/3 innings of a 9-5 victory at Chase Field on Aug. 16.