Astros in for more pitching tests

Mark Mulder took the words right out of my mouth.

“This won’t be the last time this year that someone is perfect through a good portion of the game against the Astros,” the former major-league pitcher, now a TV analyst, said on Twitter during the seventh inning.

The Rangers’ Yu Darvish still had his perfect game at that point — had it, in fact, until the unheralded Marwin Gonzalez broke it up with a two-out single in the ninth.

Darvish, 26, was utterly brilliant in the Rangers’ 7-0 victory on Tuesday night, and his second season in the majors figures to be even better than his first, when he went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA. But Mulder is right: A quality pitcher against the Astros is not a fair fight.

Some Astros people insist that their team is better than people think. Most already are tired of the narrative about the club’s incredibly shrinking payroll. But this is the world that the Houston ownership and front office created — one that ultimately could lead them to a better place, but only after considerable short-term pain.

True, the poor quality of the opponent mostly would have been overlooked if Darvish had succeeded in getting the final out Tuesday night. Matt Cain threw his perfect game against a 107-loss Astros team last season, but most simply remember that he threw a perfect game.

This Astros club, though, might be even worse than that one was, and the franchise just moved to the powerful AL West from the more modest NL Central. What’s more, the ‘Stros incredibly shrinking payroll means they will draw considerably more scrutiny than your average last-place team.

The active payroll for the Astros’ 25-man roster is about $19 million, the lowest in the majors since the 2006 Marlins at $15 million, according to the Associated Press. The player the Astros are paying the most, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez at $4.5 million, pitches for the Pirates.

And now, after two games, the Astros have struck out 28 times — 13 in their opener, 15 on Tuesday night. The strikeouts certainly didn’t hurt the Astros in their opener, in which they beat the Rangers, 8-2. But 28 Ks? In just 17 innings, that’s the equivalent of more than a full game worth of strikeouts.

Leadoff man Jose Altuve, fourth in OPS among NL second baseman last season, is the Astros’ most legitimate offensive player. The team’s 3-4-5 hitters Tuesday night essentially were castoffs from other clubs:

* First baseman Carlos Pena, a free-agent acquisition, batted .197 with a .684 OPS for the Rays and had the fourth highest strikeout rate in the majors last season.

* Left fielder Chris Carter, obtained from the A’s in the Jed Lowrie trade, hit 16 homers and had an .864 OPS last season, but also struck out 83 times in 218 at-bats.

* Right fielder Rick Ankiel, signed as a minor-league free agent in January, has batted .235 with a .681 OPS the past three seasons.

Entering the ninth, against the bottom of the Astros’ order, Darvish seemed a virtual lock to achieve perfection. The Astros’ three hitters — DH Jason Castro, catcher Carlos Corporan and Gonzalez — entered the season with a combined .229 batting average in 894 major-league at-bats.

Well, you never know in baseball. Gonzalez, who was 7-for-54 in his career (.130) with two outs when he stepped to the plate, hit a clean single up the middle, and that was that.

On this night, the Astros avoided history, but in the AL West alone, they are likely to face Darvish again, not to mention the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, the Angels’ Jered Weaver and the Athletics’ Brett Anderson.

Start your perfect-game pools. The season is just beginning.