(Sports Network) – The Houston Astros haven’t had much to cheer about these days and are hoping the possible return of outfielder Hunter Pence will make a difference tonight in the second contest of a three-game series versus the intrastate rival Texas Rangers in Arlington.
Pence injured his left elbow on a slide into first base during a 7-3 win at Los Angeles on Friday and was examined by Dr. Tom Mehlhoff. An MRI revealed a sprain but no tears or ligament damage for Pence, whose range of motion has improved since the weekend and is one of the league leaders with 181 hits since the 2010 All-Star break. The Fort Worth, TX native is batting .321 with nine homers and 51 RBI this season and said he feels good about coming back.
“It feels good,” Pence said on Houston’s website. “From where I was, the inflammation was in there and we detected what the problem was. It’s like a sprained ankle on the elbow. I know it’s feeling pretty good and I’m pretty optimistic about getting back soon.”
The Astros have struggled with and without Pence in the lineup and dropped an 8-3 decision last night to the Rangers in the series opener. Starter J.A. Happ fell to 3-9 on the season after he lasted a season-low 2 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs, five of which were earned, and eight hits.
“I just wasn’t getting strike one,” Happ said. “When I’m ahead in the count there’s different swings. Obviously the results were not good tonight.”
Jason Michaels led the offense with two hits and two RBI, while Jeff Keppinger finished 2-for-4 with a run scored for Houston, which lost for the 13th time in its last 17 tries and has the worst record in the major leagues at 27-47. The Astros are battling Texas for the Silver Boot and are 27-34 all-time in this matchup. Texas has taken home the trophy in seven of the past 10 seasons, something Houston hasn’t done since winning four of six meetings in 2006.
Houston rookie Jordan Lyles is still searching for his first major league win and will toe the rubber tonight. Lyles is 0-2 with a 4.30 ERA in his first four major league starts and lost to Pittsburgh the previous time out in a 5-4 loss on Thursday.
Lyles, a right-hander, was reached for five runs — three earned — and four hits through 5 2/3 innings. He is 0-1 in two road starts and will face Texas for the first time in his career.
The Rangers won for the third time in four tries on Monday after going 3-7 on a 10-game road trip. Starting pitcher Derek Holland posted the win last night and limited the ’Stros to three runs and six hits over 7 1/3 innings to push his season record to 6-2.
“I just executed better tonight,” Holland said. “My defense made plays for me and the offense kept doing what they do. For me, it was just better execution.”
Josh Hamilton hit a two-run triple in the second inning and Adrian Beltre finished with three hits and two RBI for Texas, which got three hits, an RBI and a run scored from Craig Gentry. Hamilton is hitting .486 with five homers and 20 RBI in his last 16 games in interleague play, and has hit safely in his last 15 home games against the Senior Circuit. Ian Kinsler went 0-for-5 with a run scored last night and entered the game batting .369 against Houston.
Texas has won 17 of its last 21 games against the National League and is in the midst of playing 16 of 19 games at Rangers Ballpark. The New York Mets will also pay a visit to the Lone Star State for three games on this residency.
C.J. Wilson puts his modest unbeaten streak on the line tonight for the Rangers and is 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA over his previous five starts. He did not record a decision in Thursday’s 3-2 loss at Yankee Stadium, but pitched well enough for a win with eight innings of two-run ball and 10 strikeouts.
Wilson remained at 7-3 on the season in 15 starts and lowered his earned run average slightly to 3.03. The left-hander, whose last four starts were on the road, puts his 4-1 home mark in seven outings to the test against an Astros club he has faced 12 times (2 starts) in his career. Wilson is 2-1 with a solid 3.52 ERA in this matchup.
Texas won five of six encounters with the Astros a season ago and is 11-2 in the 13 most recent meetings between the two ballclubs.