HOUSTON — Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch had repeatedly made clear that he was willing to wait for veteran designated hitter Evan Gattis to find his stroke, even in the midst of a prolonged slump that left Gattis lugging a .200 batting average into the second month of the season.
Gattis was something of a forgotten man last season as the Astros rolled to a World Series championship, producing the fewest plate appearances (325) and home runs (12) in his five-year career. This season, with a role as the DH essentially his, Gattis struggled before stringing together one hit in each of his previous three starts before he had a bit of a breakout on Saturday.
Gattis sparked the Astros (25-16) to a 6-1 victory with a game-tying RBI single in the third inning and a solo home run in the fifth. The latter marked Gattis’ second homer this season, a blast that felt long overdue for someone who slugged 102 homers in his first four seasons.
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“He needed it and the guys were all rooting for him,” Hinch said. “He’s obviously had a rough start to the season, but we’re only a quarter of the way in. He can get hot and carry an offense.
“Those are some good swings, obviously very aggressive early in the count. I thought the ball he hit out of the ballpark was a down-and-in sinker that he hasn’t been getting to. He’d either been fouling it off or swinging over it so to keep that fair was a great indicator of a good approach.”
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (2-5, 3.53 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros. He is 8-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 23 career starts against Texas, including a 5-1 loss on March 30 in Arlington where he allowed three runs, seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts in six innings.
Keuchel has worked seven-plus innings in three consecutive starts and in four of his last five appearances and ranks tied for 10th in the American League in innings pitched (51). He logged eight innings in his previous start, a 16-2 victory on May 7 at Oakland over the Athletics.
Left-hander Matt Moore (1-4, 7.71 ERA) will start for Texas. Moore will pitch on extended rest after a no-decision in the Rangers’ 7-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday.
Moore is 3-1 with a 2.74 ERA in four career starts against the Astros, suffering the loss in his Texas debut on March 31 in a 9-3 Houston win. In one career start at Minute Maid Park, Moore twirled seven shutout innings for the Tampa Bay Rays on July 1, 2013, allowing two hits and three walks with nine shutout innings in a 12-0 victory.
Even with its loss on Saturday, Texas (16-25) stands poised to win a second consecutive series at Minute Maid Park with a victory in the rubber match on Sunday. For a club mired in last place in the American League West and dealing with a slew of injuries, quality victories matter.
“They are the reigning World Series champs; they get to look at that banner every day, and they are a good ballclub,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. “You’re cautious against making too much out of one single win, however in the way that we’ve won a couple games here with the pitching performances that we’ve had, there is a lot of confidence in that for our entire ballclub.”