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Astros kick off series vs. in-state rival Rangers

Sportsnaut
Apr 24, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Aledmys Diaz (16) and catcher Martin Maldonado (15) pour an ice bucket on shortstop Jeremy Pena (3) after Pena hit a walk-off home run during the tenth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston manager Dusty Baker tinkered with his lineup Sunday in the finale of a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

It was a move — and a win — he hopes will catapult the Astros as they embark on a trip that starts Monday night in Arlington, Texas, against the Rangers.

With second baseman Jose Altuve on the 10-day injured list since the middle of last week, rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena hit leadoff until Sunday, the final game of a six-game homestand.

Baker inserted center fielder Chas McCormick atop the order and dropped Pena to eighth. McCormick went 2-for-5 while Pena hit a two-run, walk-off home run in the 10th inning of an 8-7 win, snapping a four-game losing streak.

“Our offense came alive,” Baker said. “We got some big hits, some timely hits. Hopefully, that’s the start of something good for us.”

Pena was part of a productive bottom third of the lineup, combining with Aledmys Diaz and Martin Maldonado to go 2-for-11 with four runs scored, three walks and three RBIs. It was a boost to a struggling offense seeking to break out of a slump with some semblance of balance.

“That’s very important so they don’t have easy innings throughout the game,” Baker said.

Left-hander Framber Valdez (1-1, 4.50 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros in the series opener. After carrying a shutout into the seventh inning of his first start of the season, Valdez has allowed seven runs on 10 hits and nine walks over his last two starts, both Houston losses. He had as many strikeouts in his first start (six) as the last two starts combined.

Valdez is 3-2 with a 3.62 ERA in eight career appearances (five starts) against Texas. He was 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA over two starts in 2021, with three hits allowed and 11 strikeouts over 13 innings.

Right-hander Dane Dunning (0-1, 5.68) has the starting assignment for the Rangers on Monday. He took the loss in his previous outing against the Seattle Mariners last Wednesday, allowing three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts over four innings in a 4-2 setback.

Dunning is 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA in two career appearances (one start) against the Astros. The loss came in Houston last May when he allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks, with three strikeouts over four innings. Dunning is 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA at home compared with 1-8 and a 5.93 ERA since his major-league debut in 2020.

The Rangers had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 2-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, concluding their six-game trip at 3-3. Texas had dropped five consecutive games before its run of victories, with the latter stretch boosting club morale.

“There was some good,” Texas manager Chris Woodward said. “Obviously those three wins, the tough ones, the one in Seattle and the two (in Oakland), it was good that we battled. We battled all the way through the ninth inning (Sunday). We’ve just got to tighten a few things up and keep our foot on the gas.”

–Field Level Media