Orioles don’t get break facing Astros’ No. 5 starter

HOUSTON — The offseason acquisition of right-hander Gerrit Cole was orchestrated to fortify an already stout Astros rotation, one that when fully armed, had the option of utilizing versatile right-hander Brad Peacock in a complementary role en route to the 2017 World Series title.

On Sunday against Texas, Cole made his Astros debut and, for at least one start, validated the decision of Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow, working seven strong innings in an 8-2 victory that clinched the four-game series.

Cole surrendered one run on two hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts, growing stronger as his outing progressed and capping a collective performance by the Houston rotation that should give the rest of the American League pause.

Cole followed right-hander Justin Verlander, left-hander Dallas Keuchel, and righty Lance McCullers over the weekend, with that quartet combining to log 24 1/3 innings while allowing just six earned runs on 17 hits and seven walks. They recorded 30 strikeouts with a 2.22 ERA.

“This is obviously high-end stuff across the board,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Gerrit would have pitched Opening Day for most teams or a lot of teams; to have him pitch the fourth game of the year is really indicative of the depth of this rotation.

“The starting rotation in general is a great example of how our team is built.”

Things won’t get any easier for the Astros’ next opponent, the Baltimore Orioles, as Houston (3-1) opens its home schedule on Monday night at Minute Maid Park with right-hander Charlie Morton making his season debut. Morton delivered a pair of memorable Game 7 performances for the Astros during their run to the title, allowing one earned run on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over nine innings against the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in the finale of the American League Championship Series and World Series, respectively.

Morton is 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA over two career starts against the Orioles. He did not face Baltimore last season, his first with the Astros.

The Orioles (1-2) were blanked by Twins right-hander Jose Berrios on Sunday at Camden Yards, mustering just three hits as the 23-year-old Berrios posted his first career shutout. Berrios needed only 57 pitches to complete six innings and finished with six strikeouts.

“We caught all three pitchers on top of their game,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Twins starters Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and Berrios.

“I’ve got some thoughts about it (the early struggles by the lineup) a little bit, but when you go back through it like we have it’s really quality pitching. Good pitching will make you look not sharp offensively. When you see that many guys having trouble you know it’s the pitching, and we’re getting ready to face some more good pitchers. It’s the big leagues.”

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman will make his season debut seeking to distance himself from a nightmarish 2017 campaign in which he finished 1-7 with a career-worst 7.84 ERA.

Tillman is 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA over seven career starts against the Astros, dropping an 8-4 decision last July 22 at Camden Yards after allowing three runs on six hits with five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.