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Justin Verlander seeks another win as Astros oppose Guardians

Houston ace Justin Verlander aims for his seventh consecutive victory when the Houston Astros begin a four-game series against the host Cleveland Guardians on Thursday.

Verlander (14-3, 1.81 ERA) leads the majors in ERA and wins in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. He has allowed one earned run or none in each of his past six starts, going 6-0 with a 0.86 ERA in that span.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner turned in another gem last Friday, when he allowed one run on five hits over 7 2/3 innings in an 11-1 win over the Seattle Mariners.

“He knows exactly what the game calls for and then makes adjustments accordingly,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He keeps doing his thing at 39 years old and (you) just have to tip your cap at him. He’s going to the Hall of Fame, he’s that good.”

Verlander was appreciative of the reception he received Friday from the Houston crowd.

“The fans were incredible,” he said. “It felt really special to have them acknowledge me like that. It was a sellout crowd, which was pretty usual. It’s nice to be able to go out and perform and have them support you like that.”

Verlander is 21-24 with a 4.61 ERA in 53 career starts vs. Cleveland. He has struggled to contain Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez, who is 11-for-30 with two homers against him.

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Houston avoided a three-game sweep against the Boston Red Sox with a 6-1 victory on Wednesday. Second baseman Jose Altuve tied a club record with his 34th career four-hit game and first baseman Trey Mancini hit a two-run homer in his first start with his new team.

Cleveland has won 11 of its past 17 games and sits one game behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the American League Central.

The Guardians began the week by winning two of three against the Arizona Diamondbacks, including a 7-4 victory on Wednesday. Amed Rosario and Oscar Gonzalez both homered and combined for five RBIs in the win.

Right-hander Zach Plesac (2-9, 4.33 ERA) will take the mound for the Guardians on Thursday. He lost his fifth straight decision on Saturday, when he yielded five runs over five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Plesac, 27, owns a 1-1 record and 10.24 ERA in two career starts against Houston. He allowed seven runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 7-3 loss to the Astros on May 24.

Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan enters the series on a tear. The rookie is batting .355 (27-for-76) with 16 runs and five RBIs during his career-high, 17-game hitting streak.

Kwan’s streak is the longest by a Cleveland rookie since Michael Brantley had a hit in 19 straight games back in 2010.

The Guardians added a pair of rookies to their roster this week, outfielder Will Benson, who is 0-for-2 through three games, and infielder Tyler Freeman, who recorded his first major league hit in his debut on Wednesday.

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“I feel like I’m dreaming still,” Freeman said postgame. “Maybe when I wake up tomorrow it’ll kind of come back to me. But I’m still on Cloud 9.”

Houston welcomed three new players at Tuesday’s trade deadline. Mancini arrived from the Baltimore Orioles, while the Astros acquired catcher Christian Vazquez from the Boston Red Sox and left-handed reliever Will Smith from the Atlanta Braves.

Mancini, who hit 117 homers during his 5 1/2 seasons with Baltimore, made an immediate impact with his two-run homer on Wednesday.

“I was pretty pumped up in the moment,” Mancini said. “Just a really special moment and definitely one of the highlights of my career.”


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