HOUSTON — The rationale behind the Houston Astros acquiring right-hander Gerrit Cole during the offseason was on full display Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, with Cole playing the role of stopper in a rotation that features other pitchers who have held that same job in previous seasons.
With Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers having scuffled — relatively speaking — during their second starts, Cole took the hill and stopped that momentum with seven shutout innings against the San Diego Padres, recording his second 11-strikeout effort in as many starts.
Cole surrendered just one run and two hits in his Astros debut last Sunday at Texas. He improved upon that stellar performance just when Houston (7-2) needed a dominant start to help nurse along their struggling offense, delivering exactly what was so sorely needed.
“He was so good and dominant and under control,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I love the way he thinks his way through the game and also executes the game plan that he wants if he doesn’t like a pitch. He stepped off a couple times. He’s just a very, very impressive high-end starting pitcher.
“That makes us obviously feel good whenever he gets the ball. We feel completely in control of the game.”
After pounding Texas and Baltimore pitching over the course of four consecutive games, the Astros have suddenly hit the skids offensively. They needed a misplay by the Padres infield to eke out a 1-0 win in 10 innings and even the weekend series, and have scored just five runs in three games.
“We haven’t swung the bats this series like we like to, but we’re going to get back to doing that tomorrow,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who produced the walk-off hit.
Right-hander Charlie Morton (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros. Morton worked six shutout innings against the Orioles in his first start of the season, striking out six.
Morton has enjoyed great success against the Padres in his career, going 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA over eight starts during his nine seasons pitching for three teams in the National League.
Right-hander Tyson Ross (1-0, 4.50 ERA) will get the nod in the finale as the Padres (2-7) seek their first series victory on the season. Ross is 1-1 with a 5.91 ERA over two career starts against the Astros, recording 11 strikeouts over 10 2/3 innings but also issuing seven walks. He earned his lone victory over the Astros last season while pitching for the Rangers, allowing three runs on four hits and five walks with two strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-3 victory on Aug. 12.
While San Diego first baseman Eric Hosmer extended his hitting streak at Minute Maid Park to 12 games, the longest such streak by any active player at the venue, and shortstop Freddy Galvis reached base safely at least once for the ninth time in nine games, the Padres’ lineup failed to support what was another surprisingly effective performance by the pitching staff.
One night after limiting the high-scoring Astros to just four hits in the series opener, six Padres pitchers allowed a total of six hits — all singles. It marked a third consecutive game in which the Padres surrendered no more than six hits.