Verlander earns 11th win, leading Astros past Royals 5-2

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON – In a career with so many accomplishments, Justin Verlander‘s success this season after missing almost two years with an elbow injury has been particularly sweet.

“Of course,” the Houston Astros right-hander said when asked if his stellar start means a lot to him. “Yeah, absolutely. We’ve talked about it a lot, just so much hard work since the since the surgery and it’s nice to see it pay off and hopefully – knock on wood – it continues.”

Verlander got his 11th win, Yordan Alvarez hit his 26th homer and the Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 5-2 to take the series 3-1.

Jose Altuve added a homer and three RBIs for the Astros, who bounced back after a 7-4 loss that snapped an eight-game winning streak.

Verlander (11-3) grinded through six innings, allowing seven hits and two runs – one earned – with eight strikeouts to lower his ERA to 2.00 in his remarkable return from Tommy John surgery. His ERA, opponent average (.190) and WHIP (0.97) all rank second in the AL. He shares the MLB lead in victories with the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin (11-0).

“I had to make some pitches in some big spots and trust my defense behind me,” he said. “Every game is not going to go perfectly without traffic. Today was one of those games where you had to grind a bit.”

The Royals led 2-0 and Kris Bubic (1-6) had walked five batters but had allowed just one hit – a single by Jake Meyers in the second – when Martin Maldonado doubled with one out in the fifth.

Altuve then jumped on the first pitch, sending it into the seats in left field to tie it at 2-2.

There were two outs in the inning when Alvarez connected on his opposite-field shot to the first row in left field to put the Astros on top 3-2. His 26 home runs rank second in the AL to Yankees star Aaron Judge, who has 30.

Altuve was asked if he’s impressed by what Alvarez does day after day.

“We enjoy the way he goes out there and everything he does,” Altuve said. “So sometimes we get surprised, sometimes not. We’ve seen good swings from him and it seems like every day he comes ready to hit the ball.”

Houston added two insurance runs in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Altuve and an RBI double by Aledmys Diaz.

Ryan Pressly pitched a scoreless ninth for his 18th save.

Verlander has 24 wins against the Royals, which is his most against any team and ties him with Nolan Ryan for fourth-most in league history against Kansas City.

The Royals led early in this one just as they had in the first three games of the series.

Emmanuel Rivera and Edward Olivares hit consecutive singles to start the second. Rivera was picked off trying to steal third for the second out before a single by Nicky Lopez scored Olivares to put Kansas City up 1-0.

Olivares got things going in the fourth when he singled with no outs and made it all the way to third on the play on an error by center fielder Meyers. The Royals made it 2-0 when Olivares scored on a sacrifice fly by Kyle Isbel.

Verlander took a one-hopper hit by MJ Melendez off the leg with one out in the fifth. It didn’t slow him down, as he chased the ball after it deflected off his leg and made the throw in time to beat Melendez to first.

Rivera singled to start the sixth before Verlander walked Isbel with one out. After a short visit to the mound, Verlander retired Lopez and Cam Gallagher on groundouts to preserve the lead and end his day.

Bubic yielded four hits and three runs while tying a career high with six walks in 5 1/3 innings for his second straight loss.

Manager Mike Matheny was disappointed in the number of walks Bubic issued.

“I just want him to continue to understand how his aggressiveness is going to be very beneficial to him,” Matheny said. “But I thought his stuff was good.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Royals: INF Bobby Witt Jr. was out of the lineup for a second straight game after fouling a ball off his hand. He still had some swelling, but Matheny said he expected Witt to hit in the cage and that he was still listed as day to day.

Astros: SS Jeremy Pena was scratched from the lineup about an hour before the game due to health and safety protocols. Manager Dusty Baker said Pena was sick but would travel with the team to Oakland.

DUSTY’S MILESTONE

Thursday’s win was a milestone for Baker, moving him out of a tie with Walter Alston into sole possession of ninth place on the all-time wins list with 2,041.

UP NEXT

Royals: Brady Singer (3-3, 4.30 ERA) will face Cleveland’s Aaron Civale (2-5, 7.05) in the opener of a three-game series against the Guardians.

Astros: Jose Urquidy (7-3, 4.15) will oppose Oakland’s Paul Blackburn (6-3, 2.90) when the Astros open a three-game series against the Athletics.

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.