By DOUG PADILLA
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Lance McCullers Jr. continued to impress in his return from a forearm flexor strain, pitching into the sixth inning as the Houston Astros finished off a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.
In just fourth start this season, McCullers (2-1) was not as sharp as he would have liked yet gave up two runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He had four walks and seven strikeouts.
“I think if this is me with my stuff not crisp, I’m happy with it,” McCullers said. “I’m not happy with the final lines, and things like that, but for what I’m bringing to the table right now, it’s solid. I’ve been getting better and will continue to do so.”
Jeremy Pena had an RBI double as the Astros won for the eighth time in their last 10 games and maintained their 11-game lead on the Seattle Mariners in the AL West.
Mike Trout and David Fletcher each had two hits for the Angels, who dropped the opener of a three-game series against their division rivals after winning consecutive series against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees. Angels MVP candidate Shohei Ohtani went 1 for 4 with a walk.
The Astros got to Angels starter Reid Detmers (5-5) in the third inning, getting a leadoff double from Chas McCormick and a one-out single from Jose Altuve. Pena followed with an RBI double and Alex Bregman added a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
The Angels missed out on an early run-scoring chance in the bottom of the third when they loaded the bases on a single from Fletcher and walks to Trout and Luis Rengifo. But McCullers got Taylor Ward on a fly ball to center to end the threat.
The Astros added two more runs in the fifth, chasing Detmers. Houston loaded the bases on walks to Altuve and Bregman, as well was a single by Kyle Tucker, and Jose Marte relieved Detmers. Yuli Gurriel and Yainer Diaz brought home runs with walks against Marte. Diaz recorded his first RBI in his major league debut.
“We walked four guys today, all in the same inning, and that’s really the difference in the game,” Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said.
The Angels finally broke through in the sixth. Ward led off with a single, Mike Ford walked and Matt Duffy hit an RBI double. Matt Thaiss cut the deficit to 4-2 on a sacrifice fly.
“(McCullers) will probably tell you he didn’t have his best stuff, falling behind guys with some walks, but we just couldn’t get one across,” Nevin said. “We just didn’t get the big one.”
McCullers was replaced by right-hander Phil Maton, who ended the inning by retiring Fletcher on a grounder. McCullers’ 97 pitches were his most in a start this season.
“Lance was good. He had that one inning where he lost control of the strike zone, but he settled back down,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Lance can make the pitches when he needs to. We were trying to stretch him out some to 90 or 100 pitches and we thought he had enough.”
Rafael Montero pitched the ninth for his 11th save, ending the game by striking out Ohtani.
Astros: About an hour before first pitch, the Astros scratched designated hitter Yordan Alvarez with hand discomfort, the fourth consecutive game he has missed with the ailment. Diaz, who was called up to the major leagues for the first time Friday, made his debut in the DH spot. … INF/OF Aledmys Diaz (groin) worked out with the team in advance of Friday’s game and is close to a rehab assignment.
Angels: OF Jared Walsh (thoracic outlet syndrome) had surgery for the ailment Thursday in Dallas and remains on track to be ready for spring training. … OF Mickey Moniak (finger) took swings in the indoor batting cages in advance of the next step in his recovery when he faces live pitching.
Astros: RHP Luis Garcia (11-8, 4.14 ERA) will bring a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game.
Angels: Ohtani (11-8, 2.67) has a 1.90 ERA and 111 strikeouts over his last 13 starts.
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