HOUSTON — Justin Verlander has only made four starts with the Houston Astros, and already manager A.J. Hinch is running out of ways to describe just how good he is.
Verlander pitched one-hit ball over seven innings to remain perfect with Houston and Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run homer to propel the Astros to a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
“He put up another excellent start,” Hinch said. “It’s remarkable to watch him compete, especially when he has this kind of confidence. I’m getting to know him as the outings go, but he really did put together an exceptional outing.”
Verlander (14-8) walked two and struck out six, improving to 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA since being traded from Detroit on Aug. 31.
The victory gives Houston 94 wins for the first time since going 97-65 in 1999. And it left the Angels 3 ½ games behind Minnesota for the second AL wild card.
The Astros had just one hit when Jose Altuve singled with no outs in the seventh. Marwin Gonzalez struck out after that and was ejected along with Hinch for arguing the call.
Alex Bregman walked before Gurriel connected off Yusmeiro Petit (5-2) on his 18th home run to give Houston a 3-0 lead. As Gurriel rounded the bases, a television shot flashed to Verlander in the dugout, and he smiled broadly knowing he was in line for the win.
“Of course I did,” Verlander said when asked about his grin. “You’re kind of out there grinding, giving everything you’ve got and for your teammate to hit a big homer and not only put the team ahead but give you the opportunity to win a ball game for all reasons those are great moments. So of course I was smiling big.”
Chris Devenski pitched a perfect eighth before Ken Giles allowed a hit and a walk with no outs before settling down to finish the inning and pick up his 33rd save.
Garrett Richards had his best start for the Angels since returning from the disabled list Sept. 5, allowing one hit over six scoreless innings.
“Garrett was tremendous,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Obviously, his linescore is terrific, but from an execution point of view, he made his pitches. He pitched efficient, he pitched effective. He really shut down a really good lineup for six innings.”
Kole Calhoun hit a leadoff single before Verlander retired 11 in a row. The Angels didn’t have another baserunner until Albert Pujols walked with one out in the fourth.
Verlander got right back on track after the walk, retiring seven straight before Justin Upton walked to start the seventh. Pujols then grounded into a double play before Brandon Phillips flied out to end the inning, ending Verlander’s night.
Like Verlander, Richards sailed through the early innings after allowing one hit in the first. Josh Reddick doubled with one out in the opening frame before Richards sat down the next 10 batters. Gonzalez walked with two outs in the fourth, but Houston didn’t get another hit until Altuve’s single to start the seventh.
Verlander has 32 strikeouts in four starts for the Astros and has won six straight decisions dating to Aug. 20.
Astros: RHP Lance McCullers, who hasn’t pitched since he was scratched from his scheduled start on Sept. 13 because of arm fatigue, will start on Sunday. “Everybody is telling me that he’s strong, that he bounced back from his bullpen and the next test is a game,” Hinch said. “We don’t really have another option with the timeline that we have. We’ll put him in there and see how it goes.”… Reddick left the game after fifth inning because of lower back discomfort.
Verlander surpassed the 200-inning mark for the 10th time in his career. He joins Mark Buehrle as the only players to have 10 200-inning seasons since 2005. His six strikeouts Friday give him 2,405 in his career to move past Dennis Eckersly for 42nd on the career list.
Angels: Bud Norris (2-5, 4.53 ERA) is scheduled to start Saturday. The former Astro will be making his second start this season after making 57 relief appearances. Norris is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in seven career appearances against the Astros.
Astros: Charlie Morton (12-7, 3.75) will start for Houston on Saturday. He allowed five hits and one run in six innings of a win over Seattle in his last start.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball