HOUSTON -- As far as exceptional outings are concerned, Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish set the bar rather high Tuesday night. What Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando accomplished Wednesday paled in comparison only because near perfection is an outrageous benchmark.
Ogando made his return to the rotation a glorious one, recording a career-best 10 strikeouts in the Rangers' 4-0 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. He surrendered just four hits, half of them infield singles, and issued only one walk over 6 1/3 superb innings.
Ogando (1-0) worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen in 2012, making a career-high 57 relief appearances as one of Texas' setup men. Against the Astros, Ogando showed no signs of stress in his new role.
"Today was the result of all my hard work in spring training," Ogando said. "I think I was able to prove to many people that all three pitches (fastball, slider and changeup) could be really effective."
Ogando surrendered a leadoff double to Jose Altuve in the first inning to end all suspense that he would match Darvish, who came within one out of completing a perfect game. He responded by getting a groundout and then striking out Carlos Pena and Chris Carter to strand Altuve at third, setting an ominous tone for Houston.
Ogando continued by tearing through the Astros order, striking out at least two batters in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings. While his fastball was undoubtedly effective, Ogando seemed to thrive off the movement of his slider. His ability to pitch efficiently was key, particularly given concerns over the strain of lasting deep into outings.
"It's a tremendous positive," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Right now he's learning how to pitch, and today he did pitch. He used everything he had."
Houston's Ronny Cedeno singled in the third and reached second base on a balk. Ogando did not allow a baserunner into scoring position until Justin Maxwell reached on an infield single and moved to second on a J.D. Martinez groundout in the seventh. Four Rangers relievers combined to complete the shutout.
Texas pitchers set a major league record by recording 43 strikeouts over the first three games of a season, eclipsing the mark of 42 set by the 1966 Cleveland Indians. While the Rangers claimed the rubber game of the series, the Astros became the first team in the live-ball era to strike out at least 15 times while being shut out in consecutive contests.
"Yesterday, it was more about their guy (Darvish), and today it was more about our guys," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "We just had our guys expanding the zone way too often. We need to make an adjustment and do a better job. The fastballs that we had an opportunity to do something with, we either fouled them off or didn't get them (in play)."
If there is an early-season trend developing for the Astros, it is their prolific strikeout rate at the plate. After Texas left-hander Matt Harrison matched hits single-game standard for strikeouts with nine in the series opener Sunday night, Darvish surpassed his by amassing 14 strikeouts.
By the close of the fifth inning, Ogando had done the same, punching out Cedeno to record his ninth strikeout and eclipse his previous single-game high of eight set on July 1, 2011, against the then-Florida Marlins.
Right-hander Philip Humber (0-1) pitched effectively in his Houston debut, carrying a shutout into the sixth inning before the Rangers loaded the bases with no outs. Nelson Cruz plated Lance Berkman with a double-play groundout, and before Humber could face Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was 2-for-2 against him, reliever Wesley Wright entered. Pierzynski flied out to right field to end the threat.
"You're never happy unless you win the game; it's a team effort," Humber said. "Walking Berkman there to lead off the sixth kind of cost us there. I will try to be better next time, just like I know we all will."
The Rangers extended the margin with a three-run eighth off Hector Ambriz. Berkman drove in Elvis Andrus with an opposite-field double, and Cruz followed an RBI single, and Pierzynski added a sacrifice fly.
However, the Rangers' offense took a back seat to the sensational pitching, with Ogando taking the baton from Darvish.
"He pitched a spectacular game," Ogando said of Darvish. "He certainly motivated me to pitch well today."
NOTES: Darvish is now 5-0 with a 1.55 ERA over his last seven regular-season starts. During that span, he has recorded 63 strikeouts over 52 1/3 innings. ... Darvish became the first Texas pitcher to lose a no-hitter after 8 2/3 innings. Charlie Hough and Nolan Ryan (twice) lost no-hitters after 8 1/3 innings. ... The Astros have never had a no-hitter or perfect game thrown against them in Houston. ... Astros right-hander Alex White, an offseason acquisition from the Colorado Rockies, is seeking a second opinion from famed surgeon James Andrews following an MRI on his right elbow. White, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list last weekend, is likely headed for Tommy John surgery.