The acquisition of Trey Mancini last week was executed in part to help the Houston Astros offset the loss of veteran left fielder Michael Brantley, who missed his 39th game since landing on the injured list on June 27.
But a different veteran capable of playing multiple positions has also helped the Astros fill that void. Aledmys Diaz produced a seismic fourth-inning grand slam to help Houston rally for a 7-5 victory over the visiting Texas Rangers in the opener of a three-game series on Tuesday.
Diaz has made 59 starts at six different positions this season and was in left field for the 15th game on Tuesday. He entered the series with the Rangers slashing .293/.359/.557 with six home runs and 13 RBIs since Brantley landed on the IL, a span of 30 games and 27 starts.
“He’s been very valuable since the first day he got here,” Astros acting manager Joe Espada said of Diaz. “He’s one of those players that sometimes goes unnoticed because he’s not your everyday guy. But he’s extremely valuable. He picks you up defensively, gets you some big (at-bats), he’s a leader in the clubhouse. He’s been a very special player for us. He contributes in so many different ways.”
Right-hander Justin Verlander (15-3, 1.73 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Wednesday. He has won seven consecutive starts, going 7-0 with a 0.76 ERA and an opponent OPS of .464.
Verlander has recorded 46 strikeouts against just eight walks during that span and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each start. He tossed six shutout innings in a 6-0 win over the Cleveland Guardians on Thursday, his seventh scoreless appearance of the season.
Verlander is 20-8 with a 2.59 ERA in 33 career starts against the Rangers, including a 2-0 record and 0.69 ERA in two starts this season. Verlander has 16 strikeouts and zero walks against Texas in 2022.
Rookie right-hander Glenn Otto (4-8, 5.31) is the scheduled starter for the Rangers. In eight starts since returning from the COVID-19 injured list, Otto is 0-6 with a 6.45 ERA.
However, he does rank among the top five among American League rookies in starts (third, 16), strikeouts (fourth, 64), wins (tied for fourth) and innings (fifth, 78). In his previous start, Otto took the loss after allowing two runs on four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over six innings in the Rangers’ 2-1 setback to the Chicago White Sox on Friday.
Otto, a Houston native and Rice University product, is 0-2 with a 5.30 ERA in four career starts against the Astros. He is 0-1 with an 3.48 ERA in two starts against Houston this season.
The Rangers parlayed a stubborn, assertive approach against Astros starter Jose Urquidy into a four-run lead through three innings Tuesday night. But once Houston rallied to the lead, it turned to its stellar bullpen, one backed by high-leverage right-handers Rafael Montero, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly. Astros relievers entered the series with the lowest ERA among all bullpens at 2.68.
“Through the middle innings we faced some of their best guys once you fall behind like that,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “They’re tough, they’re really tough.”