ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Justin Verlander shook off a shaky first inning with the help of his rookie shortstop.
The result was a four-game series split for the Houston Astros against the Texas Rangers that felt like much more.
The eight-time All-Star followed a two-run first inning with five no-hit innings and José Altuve hit Houston’s franchise-record ninth grand slam of the season as the Astros beat the Rangers 12-4 on Sunday.
Texas’ first inning ended when Astros rookie shortstop Myles Straw kept Rougned Odor’s RBI single in the infield and threw out Nomar Mazara trying to score.
“It changed the complexion of that whole inning,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Straw made the play specifically to make the throw at home. And that’s the instinct there that you find when you start to play there a little bit more, get a little more comfortable.”
Verlander (11-4) gave up four hits, all singles, and struck out seven. He retired his last 15 batters following a leadoff walk in the second inning as the Astros won their second straight after losing the series’ first two games.
“For us to be able to flip the script and come out of a tough series with a split, that’s what good ballclubs do,” Verlander said.
Verlander didn’t allow a home run for the first time since June 6. He has given up a major league high 26 homers this season, including 12 in his previous five starts, and said last Monday he was “100 percent” sure the baseballs were juiced this season. Verlander remained four shy of his career high for homers allowed in a full season and said he hasn’t changed his pitching style to avoid giving up homers.
“I’m a fly-ball pitcher,” he said. “If I start trying to be a sinker baller, it doesn’t work. My goal is to try to miss as many bats as I can. That’s what the game’s turned into.”
Once Verlander adjusted after the first inning, Rangers manager Chris Woodward said he was “as close as it comes to being unhittable.”
Altuve, the Astros’ leadoff hitter with George Springer given the day off, had three hits and scored three times after having four hits in Saturday’s 11-inning win. In 20 games since activation from the injured list on June 19, Altuve is hitting .322 with 16 runs.
“These guys are playing so good, and I don’t want to be the one that’s not helping the team,” Altuve said.
The grand slam came in a seven-run seventh inning that also included a home run by Yuli Gurriel.
Ariel Jurado (5-5) gave up five runs in the first two innings pitching on six days’ rest in making his first start since July 3. Jurado allowed seven hits and walked four, three of the walked batters scoring.
The Rangers, vying for an AL wild-card spot, have lost eight of their past 12 games.
The Astros handed Verlander a 3-0 lead in the first inning on three singles, two walks and a sacrifice fly. Jurado threw 28 pitches and received two mound visits before recording an out.
“He was really fighting some mechanical issues,” Woodward said.
The Rangers answered with two runs in the bottom of the first on the four singles before Verlander shut them down.
Verlander entered the game with a major league-low .168 opponents’ batting average and was fifth in strikeouts with 153.
Astros RHP Joe Smith, who ruptured an Achilles in December, made his season debut in the seventh inning. … Michael Brantley’s single and double gave him 37 multihit games, leading the American League. … Texas pitching didn’t record a 1-2-3 inning until the eighth. … The July 1 Rangers home game against the Los Angeles Angels that was postponed by the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs will be played Tuesday, Aug. 20 as part of a split doubleheader.
Astros: RHP Brad Peacock (shoulder) won’t start Monday’s series opener at the Angels as planned after experiencing soreness. Peacock was sent to Houston to see a doctor.
Rangers: OF Hunter Pence (groin) is scheduled to return Tuesday for the first two games at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks after completing a rehab assignment on Sunday night with Double-A Frisco.
Astros: LHP Framber Valdez (3-5, 5.28) will follow opener Josh James and pitch Monday on three days’ rest after allowing four runs in 2/3 of an inning on Thursday.
Rangers: RHP Lance Lynn (12-4, 3.69), 8-0 at home this season, will start Tuesday.