The Houston Astros’ first game since moving to the AL couldn’t have gone much better. Building on it in their second one could prove difficult with Yu Darvish set to take the mound for the Texas Rangers.
Houston tries to open with two wins for the first time in a decade when this new AL West rivalry continues at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night.
Expectations are low for the Astros as they finished with the worst record in the major leagues in each of the last two seasons - including a club-record 107 losses in 2012 - before the club’s 50-year run in the NL ended for this year. However, for one night at least, Houston found itself atop the AL standings after defeating Texas 8-2 on Sunday.
Rick Ankiel’s three-run pinch-hit homer in the sixth inning made 40-year-old Bo Porter a winner in his managerial debut, and gave Houston its first season-opening victory since 2006.
“To play our rivals here in Texas and to come out on top today, it’s a treat,” designated hitter Carlos Pena said.
Facing Darvish isn’t. The right-hander begins his second big-league season after going 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 2012.
Darvish went 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA in his final six outings before taking the loss in the Rangers’ winner-take-all wild-card game against Baltimore.
“I expect him to begin where he left off last season,” pitching coach Mike Maddux told the Rangers’ official website. “He had a nice spring (a 1.98 ERA and .167 opponents’ batting average) and I see more confidence there.”
Darvish has faced the Astros once - a 6-2 home win June 15 in which he struck out 11 in eight innings of two-run ball.
Center fielder Justin Maxwell who had two triples and two RBIs on Sunday, is the only Astro with more than one hit off Darvish. He’s 2 for 3 with a homer.
Houston’s Lucas Harrell gets the challenge of matching up with Darvish on Tuesday.
“I look at it more like I’m facing their lineup,” said Harrell (11-11, 3.76), who set career highs with 193 2/3 innings and 140 strikeouts last season. “They’ve got a good lineup, and I need to definitely be on my game.”
That’s especially true when he faces third baseman Adrian Beltre who’s 5 for 7 with two doubles against the right-hander. Nelson Cruz and David Murphy who drove in the Rangers’ runs Sunday, are each 2 for 6 with a homer off Harrell.
Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus is hitless in four-at-bats against Harrell, and he went 0 for 4 on Sunday. Andrus has agreed to an eight-year, $120 million extension.
New Rangers designated hitter and longtime Astro Lance Berkman is batting .471 (24 for 51) in a 13-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park. He went 2 for 4 on Sunday when the Rangers dropped their opener for the first time since 2008.
“I think there have been some people who have been disparaging in their analysis of (Houston’s) talent level, but this is the major leagues, and any team is capable of beating any other team on a given night,” Berkman said.
Texas hasn’t opened 0-2 since an 0-3 start to 2007.