Rangers-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

After dominating the Houston Astros to open his second major league season, Yu Darvish continues to pitch well for the Texas Rangers.

The right-hander looks to maintain his strong start when the visiting Rangers face the lowly Astros on Saturday night.

An All-Star and 16-game winner in 2012 during his first season after leaving Japan, Darvish (5-1, 2.56 ERA) came one out away from a perfect game in a 7-0 win at Houston on April 2. Marwin Gonzalez grounded a clean single through the pitcher's legs and into center field to keep Darvish from making history. He struck out 14 and allowed only that hit in 8 2-3 innings.

"I think my teammates were more disappointed than I was," he said after improving to 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA against the Astros (10-26).

Darvish has not allowed a run in two other outings this season and no more than three in all but one start. He gave up three runs on two homers and two other hits Sunday, striking out 14 in seven innings while not factoring in the decision of a 4-3 win over Boston.

Darvish is the first AL pitcher since 2000 with multiple 14-strikeout games in a season. Pedro Martinez had three and Mike Mussina two that year.

"Unbelievable, unbelievable," teammate Adrian Beltre said. "He was incredible. He's been doing it all year."

With a major league-leading 72 strikeouts, Darvish is averaging 14.2 per nine innings. That likely does not bode well for the Astros, who lead the majors with 360 strikeouts and have fanned at least 14 times on six occasions in 2013.

"I'm sure their lineup has changed since I faced them," Darvish told MLB's official website. "So I will face them looking at it as a new challenge and a new team."

Houston struck out seven times and was held to five hits in Friday's 4-2 loss to the Rangers (22-13).

Jeff Baker hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh to help Texas win for the fifth time in seven games.

"Any time you can contribute, it is awesome," said Baker, 12 for 36 with four homers this season. "Especially when you are in the utility role, and you are trying to make the most of your opportunities, getting a big hit. Getting the series started with a win is obviously huge for us."

Second baseman Ian Kinsler added two hits and is 5 for 10 in the last two games.

With a double Friday, ex-Astro Lance Berkman is batting .444 in 15 games against his former team - including 7 for 14 this season.

Houston welcomes Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.36) back to the rotation Saturday after he was relegated to the bullpen earlier this month. The veteran left-hander went 0-2 with a 9.98 ERA in five starts, then allowed one run and two hits in 3 1-3 innings of relief during a 9-0 loss to Detroit on Sunday.

"Bedard went down to the bullpen and did a tremendous job last time out and he's going into the rotation," manager Bo Porter told the Astros' official website.

In Bedard's only other relief appearance this year, he gave up one hit in 3 1-3 scoreless innings to earn his first career save in a season-opening 8-2 win over Texas on March 31.

He is 5-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 15 starts versus Texas.

Gonzalez had two hits Friday and is 4 for 7 in his last two games.

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