Cole’s 12 Ks, Díaz’s slam help Astros top Rangers 11-4

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              Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole reacts after striking out Texas Rangers' Hunter Pence to end the top of the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, May 11, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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HOUSTON (AP) — Gerrit Cole couldn’t help but linger on a recent rocky outing against the Texas Rangers. It became fuel for the right-hander that ignited one of his best starts this season.

Cole struck out a season-high 12, Aledmys Díaz hit a grand slam while starting in place of injured star Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros beat the Rangers 11-4 Saturday night.

Cole allowed nine runs in 4 1/3 innings during a 9-4 loss to Texas on April 20. He wasn’t shy about the fact that the start stuck with him.

“It was right there in the middle of my mind,” Cole said. “I try to approach every game the same, and as far as my preparation and my adrenaline and my focus, it was the same, but there was just an intangible bad taste in your mouth from the last time. I just tried to control it and use it to my advantage.”

Cole (4-4) was out for revenge. He gave up a run and four hits in six innings for his third straight win, and he has at least eight strikeouts in eight of nine starts this season. He leads the majors with 86 punchouts.

“When he has his aggressiveness from the very beginning of the game, he brings a lot of intensity,” manager AJ Hinch said. “His fastball was incredible and so was his curveball.”

Altuve was placed on the 10-day injured list after the game after suffering a left hamstring strain Friday night.

Díaz took Kyle Dowdy deep into the Crawford Boxes for a 6-1 lead in the sixth, and the Astros didn’t look back. After Díaz realized the homer was gone, he pointed into the Astros dugout with a huge grin.

The Astros won their fourth straight game, handing Texas its fourth loss in five games, including three straight in Houston.

After Jesse Chavez started for Texas and retired all three batters in the first inning, Drew Smyly (0-3) made his first relief appearance since 2014. In 4 2/3 innings, Smyly allowed one run, four hits and four walks. He was pulled after walking the bases loaded before Díaz homered.

“I didn’t make quality pitches, I just didn’t do it when it counted,” Smyly said. “I got two strikes I think on a couple of them. I just couldn’t put them away.”

Hunter Pence hit his seventh homer in the second inning over a leaping Josh Reddick to put the Rangers up 1-0. Pence has homered in four of the last five games, and he had another robbed by Reddick on Thursday.

“Gerrit Cole, I think he had a little chip on his shoulder after facing him the first two times, and we got him,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “We still had him at times, but we couldn’t really stick to our game plan. He teased us a little out of the zone. It’s easy for me to say that when I’m on the bench, but when he’s throwing 98, 99 mph right at the belt or just above it, that’s a really hard pitch to hit.”

Michael Brantley tied it at 1 in the fourth with his 10th homer of the season.

Texas’ Ronald Guzman hit a towering homer off Chris Devenski that trimmed Houston’s lead to 6-4 in the seventh.

Houston answered with a three-run seventh, going back up 9-4 on an RBI single from Tyler White and a two-run single from Robinson Chirinos. The Astros added two more insurance runs in the eighth inning on RBI singles from Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel.

MCHUGH TO THE BULLPEN

Hinch said he was moving Collin McHugh to the bullpen. After a 3-1 start to the season, McHugh allowed 25 runs in his last four starts, going 0-3 in that stretch. His ERA has ballooned to 6.37.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rangers: RHP Shawn Kelley (infection) threw a bullpen session on Saturday. Kelley has been on the 10-day IL since May 6 with a bacterial infection.

UP NEXT

Astros RHP Corbin Martin will be called up from Triple-A Round Rock to make his MLB debut in place of McHugh on Sunday. The Rangers will start RHP Adrian Sampson (0-2, 4.41).