HOUSTON – With a sagging offense and losses that were piling up, Houston manager Dusty Baker was searching for a way to jumpstart his team.
He found it Thursday night by putting Carlos Correa in the leadoff spot for the first time in his seven-year career.
Alex Bregman had three hits and three RBIs, Cristian Javier struck out a career-high nine in five scoreless innings and the Astros snapped a three-game skid with an 8-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
Correa had two hits, two RBIs and scored three runs. He batted first with Jose Altuve on the COVID-19 list, a spot Baker said he’d keep until Altuve returned.
When Baker approached Correa on Wednesday night about the move, the shortstop said he'd do whatever was necessary to help the team.
“When the leadoff man gets on base, gets an RBI, it makes everything else fall into place," Baker said. “Carlos did a great job tonight."
The Astros had lost nine of 10 after a 6-1 start. They put their road woes behind them quickly in the opener of an eight-game homestand by jumping on Alex Cobb (1-1) for five runs in less than three innings.
“It feels good to come out and score, especially against a team like the Angels because they can hit,” Baker said.
The Angels lost for the third time in four games on a night when Mike Trout left in the fifth inning with a bruised left elbow after being hit by a pitch an inning before.
“It didn’t feel like it hit any of the pad, but the replay showed obviously the pad helped me a lot," Trout said. “Hopefully I’ll be in there tomorrow.”
Albert Pujols, who has the most home runs of any player against the Astros, added to his total on Thursday night, hitting his 61st on a two-run shot in the sixth.
Javier (2-0) was sharp in his return after spending 12 days at the team’s alternate training site, allowing just three hits. He struck out six of his first seven batters, and his ninth strikeout came when he fanned Justin Upton for the first out of the fourth.
Thursday’s offensive outburst was much-needed for a team that had just eight runs combined in its last four games and that hadn’t scored more than five runs in a game since April 8.
“To start a series like that with a big win was huge for us,” catcher Martín Maldonado said.
Aledmys Díaz got things going with his double with no outs in the second before scoring on a triple by Myles Straw to make it 1-0. Correa reached on an error by Pujols that allowed Straw to score with one out.
There were two outs in the inning when Cobb’s bases-loaded walk of Yuli Gurriel pushed the lead to 3-0.
Maldonado snapped an 0-for-13 slump with a two-out double in the third. Correa’s run-scoring single made it 4-0 and chased Cobb.
Alex Claudio took over and promptly gave up a ground-rule double to Michael Brantley. Bregman’s single to left field sent both runners home to extend the lead to 6-0.
Houston was up 8-0 after adding a run in the fourth and fifth innings when Pujols hit his homer to the corner of right field. The play was reviewed, as it appeared to be a foul ball, but it stood.
Cobb yielded six hits and five runs while walking three in 2 2/3 innings.
“It was really maddening from the sidelines because actually, I thought he threw the ball pretty well," manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not like Alex was bad, he wasn’t. They did a nice job of moving the ball around and just happened to find some spots."
Angels: Trout was hit by a pitch on his left elbow to start the fourth. He writhed in pain for a bit before slowly trotting to first base where he was looked at by trainers before remaining in the game. But he only lasted one more inning before being replaced by Scott Schebler in center field.
Astros: Baker said that Altuve, who has been on the COVID-19 list since April 14, is doing better and that he could return by late this weekend or early next week. Baker said Altuve has been doing cardio and weight training but that he hasn’t resumed hitting. ... Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. said Thursday that he’s back to full strength after struggling with side effects from his vaccine in his last start on April 14.
The victory was the 1,900th of the Baker’s 24-year managerial career. The 71-year-old Baker, who is the only manager in MLB history to take five different teams to the playoffs, ranks 14th all-time in wins.
“That is quite a milestone," Baker said. “You’ve got to be around quite a while to reach that. Nineteen-hundred sounds pretty good to me."
Houston right-hander Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) opposes left-hander Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65) when the series continues Friday night.
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