Astros hope Verlander can give bullpen a rest vs. Mariners

The lack of innings completed wasn't quite as pronounced as the previous night, but left-hander Framber Valdez didn't exactly provide the Astros depth Friday against the Seattle Mariners.

One game after lefty Wade Miley failed to retire any of the six batters he faced, Valdez lasted just four innings and forced the Houston bullpen to cover the final 15 outs. The relief corps was up to the task, however, as Houston took the second game of this four-game set at Seattle's Minute Maid Park 7-4.

With right-handers Joe Biagini, Joe Smith, Hector Rondon and Roberto Osuna appearing in consecutive games, five Astros relievers combined to allow one run on two hits and one walk with five strikeouts over five innings. Combined with the 13-inning, seven-reliever effort in the series opener, the Houston bullpen has worked 18 innings and allowed five runs on nine hits and three walks with 20 strikeouts. While they have been stretched thin with two more games left to play in this series, eight different Astros relievers have delivered when called upon.

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"Just answering the phone and coming in and doing their job," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We're asking a lot out of these guys the last couple of days; a normal start from JV (ace right-hander Justin Verlander on Saturday) would go over really well. Even though we have a lot of numbers down there ... they're answering whenever we need them."

Verlander (17-5, 2.56 ERA) will make his first appearance Saturday for the Astros since posting his third career no-hitter last Sunday in Toronto. He struck out 14 Blue Jays and issued only one walk over his 120-pitch gem and continued his stellar pitching of late. Verlander is 2-1 with a 1.19 ERA over his last four starts, recording 40 strikeouts against one walk over 30 1/3 innings. Verlander is 14-9 with a 3.32 ERA over 29 career starts against the Mariners and is 2-0 with a 3.47 ERA over four starts against Seattle this season with 33 strikeouts over 23 1/3 innings.

Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (6-9, 5.36) is scheduled to make his 29th start this season for Seattle Saturday. It will mark his third career start against the Astros, against whom Kikuchi is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA with three walks and six strikeouts over nine innings. Since recording his first career shutout Aug. 18 against the Blue Jays, Kikuchi has allowed eight earned runs on 14 hits and three walks with two strikeouts over nine innings while splitting a pair of decisions.

Mariners slugging first baseman Daniel Vogelbach smacked his 30th home run this season in the sixth inning Friday, reversing a long and steady decline in production dating back to late July. Before finishing 1-for-3 with a walk, Vogelbach had lost 61 points on his OPS while producing a .144/.294/.300 slash line over his previous 28 games. The homer against Astros right-hander Joe Biagini was just the second for Vogelbach over his last dozen contests.

"I'm just continuing to put swings on balls, and whatever happens after that, you can't control," Vogelbach said. "This last month and a half obviously hasn't gone the way I wanted it to, but it's baseball. You just go through skids and believe you're going to get out of it."

--Field Level Media

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