HOUSTON -- Of the myriad issues that undermined the Astros in April, their starting pitching ranked atop the list, which makes the starts delivered by Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers in succession promising. Fiers outdueled Corey Kluber and produced his best start of the season as the Houston Astros took the opener of a three-game series with the Cleveland Indians 7-1 on Monday night at Minute Maid Park. Fiers (3-1) allowed one run on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over seven innings. His lone hiccup came in the sixth inning when he surrendered a leadoff double to nine-hole hitter Rajai Davis, who eventually scored following three consecutive groundball outs. The Indians (15-14) didn't muster many threats beyond Davis' output. They managed baserunners in the second, third, fourth and seventh innings against Fiers, but only Jason Kipnis' walk in the fourth came to open an inning. Fiers recorded 12 groundball outs to remain in control. "Everything," Fiers said when asked what worked. "Really just getting ahead and riding that five-run lead. These guys gave me some runs early, and I was in a good spot where I could make a couple mistakes here and there and be fine with that. Just going after the guys, throwing a lot of strikes and trying to mix the pitches up as much as I can." While Astros second baseman Jose Altuve finished 1-for-4 with three RBIs, it was the bottom of the Houston (13-20) order that carried the offense. Center fielder Carlos Gomez went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI, just his fifth of the season, while third baseman Luis Valbuena finished 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored while batting eighth. Catcher Jason Castro doubled, walked and scored batting ninth. Kluber (2-4) was in vintage form in the first inning, striking out the side on just 12 pitches to seemingly continue his dominance from his prior outing when he twirled a five-hit shutout against Detroit on May 4. But things deteriorated rapidly for Kluber in the third. When Valbuena dumped a leadoff single over the shifted infielders to right field, he initiated a stretch where six consecutive batters reached against Kluber. Castro and Altuve followed with doubles, with Altuve drilling the first pitch into left field to score Valbuena and Castro for a 2-0 Astros lead. Three batters later, following a George Springer walk and a Carlos Correa single to left that loaded the bases, Rasmus followed with a two-run single to right field while also swinging away at the first pitch. "He came out of the chute so good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Struck out the first three hitters and then all of a sudden, he was catching too much of the plate and didn't locate. All of a sudden, all the pitches were running toward the middle. That ended up being too much for us." Kluber faced just three more batters, surrendering a run-scoring groundout to Marwin Gonzalez before departing after he walked Gomez. Kluber allowed three earned runs over his previous three starts combined yet his ledger against the Astros marked the worst of his season: 2 2/3 innings pitched, five runs on five hits and three walks. "It was a big inning for us to ... get Kluber out of the game that early I think was the key to winning the game," Altuve said. "You don't want somebody like him staying in the game." The three strikeouts Kluber recorded in the first inning were the only strikeouts of his abbreviated start. That total represents a season low. "I just didn't really locate pitches," Kluber said. "The first few guys, I fell behind on and tried to get back in the zone to get in the count, but they took advantage of pitches that weren't well located." NOTES: The Indians traded C Anthony Recker to the Atlanta Braves on Monday for cash considerations. Recker signed with Cleveland as a free agent on Nov. 27, 2015, and played 19 games with Triple-A Columbus, batting .246/.395/.426 with two home runs and 10 RBIs for the Clippers. ... Astros RHP Lance McCullers traveled to Houston for a scheduled bullpen session on Tuesday. McCullers (right shoulder soreness) made his first rehab start last Saturday, hurling five shutout innings with seven strikeouts for Triple-A Fresno. If McCullers completes his bullpen without suffering a setback, he likely will pitch for the Astros during their upcoming road trip through Boston and Chicago. ... Monday marked just the second career series between Astros SS Carlos Correa and Indians SS Francisco Lindor and the first since they finished 1-2 in American League Rookie of the Year voting last season. Correa and Lindor, both Puerto Rico natives, debuted six days apart last season and first squared off in Cleveland July 6-9.
Fiers pitches Astros past Indians
The Sports Xchange | May 10