Astros look for jolt from returning Gurriel against Rangers

HOUSTON — Having endured a surprisingly futile stretch on offense, the Houston Astros erupted Wednesday in Minneapolis only to have their stellar pitching come apart in the same game.

For the first time this season, a Houston starter was truly shelled, with right-hander Lance McCullers surrendering eight runs in the fourth inning against the Minnesota Twins.

Given the recent struggles of their usually potent offense — the Astros scored just nine runs in the previous five games — a seven-run deficit appeared insurmountable. That was until the Astros rallied to pull even in the ninth inning before ultimate falling on a Max Kepler walk-off homer and losing 9-8.

“We were game all the way around,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “For us to lose on one, big swing is frustrating.”

The Astros (9-4) are expecting reinforcements in the form of first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who is poised to return from the 10-day disabled list on Friday when Houston opens a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park.

Gurriel, who slashed .299/.332/.486 with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs during his first full season before posting an .864 OPS in the playoffs, has missed 13 games after surgery in February to repair the hamate bone in his left hand.

Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole (1-0, 0.64 ERA) will start the series opener. He is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA in two career starts against the Rangers, posting 20 strikeouts against five walks in 14 innings.

Before limiting Texas to one run, two hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts in his Astros debut on April 1, Cole worked seven shutout innings in Arlington during his rookie season, allowing three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in a 1-0 win on Sept. 9, 2013.

Rangers ace left-hander Cole Hamels (1-2, 5.06 ERA) will make his second start of the season and the 18th of his career against Houston. He is 7-5 with a 4.22 ERA against the Astros, including a 4-1 loss on Opening Day when he allowed three runs, five hits and four walks with seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

While the Astros anticipate being bolstered by the return of a lineup stalwart, the Rangers (4-10) continue to be victimized by attrition.

With outfielder Delino DeShields (left hand), second baseman Rougned Odor (left hamstring) and right-hander Doug Fister (right hip) already on the disabled list, the Rangers lost shortstop Elvis Andrus to a right elbow fracture on Wednesday. Andrus was hit by a Keynan Middleton pitch in Texas’ 7-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

“We’re going to lean on guys that have an opportunity to get more everyday playing time,” said left-hander Matt Moore, who fell to 0-3 with the loss. “Over the course of most seasons, you’re going to have bumps in the road and hopefully we’re hitting the washboard right up front.

“It’s an opportunity for us to step up and maybe do something we’re not supposed to.”