The Texas Rangers have owned the Houston Astros lately.
The AL West leaders, though, aren't about to overlook their new divisional foes.
Texas continues its four-city road trip Friday night with Alexi Ogando pitching opposite Dallas Keuchel, who makes his first start of the season for the Astros.
By taking two of three in Houston from March 31-April 3 - Ogando (3-2, 3.08 ERA) struck out a career-best 10 in 6 1-3 shutout innings to win the series finale - the Rangers improved to 21-6 in this in-state matchup since 2009.
Texas (21-13) has won 12 of 15 at Minute Maid Park during that stretch, but manager Ron Washington sees the Astros (10-25) making progress in their first season in the AL.
"They're not panicking and they don't care what other people are saying," he told the Rangers' official website. "That's what you've got to do. They're doing what they need to be doing. They know the situation they are in. It's no secret. But you read things out of Houston, it's all positive. That's a good thing."
There could have been a lot of good news coming out of Houston on Thursday had the Astros completed their first sweep since May 21-23, but they lost 6-5 to the Los Angeles Angels.
The Astros' starting rotation showed improvement in that three-game series, with that group's MLB-worst ERA dropping from 6.53 to 6.10. Manager Bo Porter is looking for Keuchel (0-1, 4.96 ERA) and fellow left-hander Erik Bedard, Saturday's scheduled starter, to continue that run as both have been promoted from the bullpen.
"One of the things you look at, the Rangers' lineup is left-handed dominant and they have some left-handed guys in their lineup, and we felt like if we can get both of our lefties matched up against them it would put us in good position," Porter told the Astros' official website. "Dallas has done a tremendous job out of the bullpen and he's given us length every time he's come into the game (16 1-3 innings in six appearances), and we're going to give him an opportunity to get into the rotation."
Keuchel went 3-8 with a 5.27 ERA in 16 starts last season. The left-hander's major league debut was at Texas on June 17, not getting a decision as he threw five innings of one-run ball in a 9-3 loss.
"I'm a starter at heart," Keuchel told MLB's official website. "If my role is in the bullpen, then it's in the bullpen. I'm going to try to pitch to the best of my ability. Friday is going to be no different."
One of those lefty hitters he'll likely face is Mitch Moreland, batting .435 over the last six games with three homers in the past four.
Moreland went 0 for 13 in these teams' last series, but former Astro Lance Berkman was 6 for 10 with three RBIs. Berkman, limited to pinch-hitting duties in Milwaukee on Tuesday and Wednesday with no designated hitter, is batting .491 with six homers and 23 RBIs during a 15-game hitting streak in Houston.
Chris Carter, the Astros' leader with eight homers and 19 RBIs, is 0 for 16 in his last five games against Texas but has gone 4 for 10 this week with two homers and five RBIs. He's 0 for 5 off Ogando, who will likely be throwing to Geovany Soto with A.J. Pierzynski (strained abdominal) being placed on the disabled list Wednesday.
Ogando is coming off his first win in five starts, yielding a run in six innings of a 5-1 victory over Boston on Saturday.
Texas has won nine consecutive series against Houston since dropping two of three at Minute Maid Park from June 24-26, 2008.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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