If the Texas Rangers were going to have any measure of success against Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander on Wednesday, they were going to have to display a competitive spirit from the outset.
Texas did precisely that, squaring the current three-game road series with an 8-4 victory in 10 innings that started with a feisty first inning in which the Rangers fouled off nine pitches against Verlander.
The Rangers failed to score in the opening frame, but Verlander exhausted 22 pitches while stranding a pair of baserunners and went on to allow three runs over six innings, ending his streak of seven consecutive starts of one earned run or fewer.
The tone was set in the first, with Verlander describing it as “a bit of a grind.” After showing early fight, the Rangers scratched across runs in the fourth and sixth with timely fly balls.
“I’ve got to tip my cap to those guys,” Verlander said. “With runners on third base and less than two outs they put together some good at-bats on me and got a couple sacrifice flies.”
Left-hander Framber Valdez (10-4, 2.87 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros on Thursday. He extended his streak of consecutive quality starts to 18 by limiting the Cleveland Guardians to three runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings in a 9-3 road victory on Aug. 5.
Valdez is 9-3 with a 2.68 ERA and a .591 opponent’s OPS during that span. He worked fewer than six innings twice in his first three starts of the season but hasn’t done so since, and has surrendered more than three earned runs only once in his 21 starts.
Valdez is 4-2 with a 2.78 ERA in 10 career appearances (seven starts) against the Rangers. He is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts against Texas this season, holding the Rangers to one run on six hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings in a 5-1 victory on May 19.
Rangers rookie left-hander Cole Ragans (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his second career start on Thursday. He limited the Chicago White Sox to one unearned run on three hits and four walks with three strikeouts over five innings in his major league debut on Aug. 4.
Texas selected Ragans in the first round (30th overall) in the 2016 draft. He went a combined 8-5 with a 3.04 ERA over 18 starts with Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock prior to his promotion.
Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras led the offense Wednesday, finishing 2-for-4 with a career-high five RBIs in the victory. Taveras entered 1-for-16 in his last four games and rolled a harmless ground ball to first base on the first pitch of his first plate appearance in the first inning.
But as a showcase of his development and perseverance, Taveras settled himself and delivered a run-scoring triple in the fourth inning that got the Rangers on the board before adding a sacrifice fly in the sixth and a bases-clearing double in the 10th that broke the game wide open.
“He has come a long way in a short amount of time,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “And he’s proven to us that I can’t take him out of the lineup.”