Astros happy to have Gurriel back

HOUSTON — On Friday, after a lengthy delay caused by suspension and then injury, Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel made his season debut, batting fifth and going 1-for-4 with a single.

For the Astros (10-4), who will host Texas again Saturday at Minute Maid Park, Gurriel represents more than another potent right-handed bat. As an anchor at first base, Gurriel enables manager A.J. Hinch to better employ Marwin Gonzalez as a super utility player, a role perfectly suited for his skills and one that better serves the Astros defensively.

“It’s good to have our whole group back and Yuli always brings a little bit of life to the party and certainly will bring some good at-bats to the lineup,” Hinch said of Gurriel, who slashed .299/.332/.486 with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs last season. “I think it makes it the longest lineup that we can have, meaning a guy we can throw in every day that can really put up some good at-bats.

“It will push the batting order around a little bit versus lefties and versus righties, and it’s nice to get Yuli back.”

Right-hander Charlie Morton (2-0, 0.00 ERA) gets the start in the middle game of the three-game series. Morton has yet to allow an earned run in two starts and 12 innings this season, recording 13 strikeouts against five walks while also surrendering seven hits.

Morton is 6-0 with a 1.09 ERA in his last seven starts at Minute Maid Park, including the Astros’ run to the World Series last postseason. In his career against Texas, he is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA over three starts.

Left-hander Mike Minor (1-1, 2.53 ERA) will start for the Rangers. He will be facing the Astros for the second time in three starts this season, suffering the loss on April 1 in his Texas debut after allowing two runs on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. Minor is 1-2 with a 4.44 ERA over seven career appearances (four starts) against the Astros.

Ravaged by injuries, the Rangers (4-11) inserted first baseman Ronald Guzman and second baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa into the starting lineup for the first time. For Guzman, it was his major league debut; Kiner-Falefa was playing in his third game as a rookie.

Both responded with their first career hits, with Guzman finishing 1-for-3 with a walk and Kiner-Falefa going 1-for-4.

The Rangers opened the series with three regulars on the disabled list, including shortstop Elvis Andrus (fractured right elbow) and second baseman Rougned Odor (left hamstring strain). While Odor is slated to be sidelined for three weeks, Andrus is expected to miss six to eight weeks, meaning there will be continued opportunities for Guzman and Kiner-Falefa to play.

“First, them going through these games, feeling what it feels like, understanding that a major league baseball game can be a very thin margin,” Texas manager Jeff Banister said of the challenges facing his rookies. “That you have to handle the baseball, the mistakes can be very challenging at this level.”