The Astros get started with the Rays

Cy Young hopefuls, question on Correa highlight opening series

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros finished their exhibition season Tuesday at Minute Maid Park and now turn their sights to Tampa Bay and the Rays for baseball's opening day on Thursday.

Probable Pitching Matchup

Thursday, March 28

Justin Verlander vs Blake Snell

The top two finishers for last year's Cy Young oppose each other for the season's first game. Snell allowed seven hits and two runs in two different outings against the Astros last year. Verlander faced the Rays twice with one start being one of his rare poor outings. He allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings of work. The other was just a one run outing.

Friday, March 29

Gerrit Cole vs Charlie Morton

The contract year begins for Gerrit Cole who is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. Cole finished fifth in Cy Young voting last year. Morton begins a two-year deal with the Rays after finishing up his two years with the Astros where he was 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA.

Saturday, March 30

Collin McHugh vs Tyler Glasnow

The Astros have shifted McHugh back to the rotation after a season in the bullpen. He has started 102 games for the Astros in his career producing a 48-28 record with a 3.70 ERA as a starter. Last year as a relief pitcher he had a career low ERA of 1.99.

Sunday, March 31

Wade Miley vs TBA (The Opener)

The Rays will utilize The Opener instead of a traditional starter in this spot. Tampa posted the league's best ERA last season when they added The Opener to their rotation. Wade Miley is the lone left-handed pitcher in the starting rotation taking over the role filled by Dallas Keuchel. Miley was 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA last year in 16 starts for the Brewers.

Offensive Opponent to Watch: CF Tommy Pham

The former Cardinals outfielder disappointed for the Redbirds but for the Rays he's been awesome. His average and on-base percentage went up almost 100 points each when he moved to the American League. His slugging went up almost 200 points. He's the best hitter for the Rays by a wide margin. He has a lifetime .583 batting average against Gerrit Cole.

Notes from Tuesday's Exhibition

Alex Bregman played shortstop as Carlos Correa was a late scratch with neck stiffness. Manager A.J. Hinch was non-committal on Correa's status for Thursday's season opener. Hinch said he didn't think Correa's injury was a long-term issue but is not thrilled he hasn't played the few days leading up to the season starting. If Correa misses time it will be interesting to see how Hinch manages third base and shortstop. His best offensive lineup would likely be Tyler White at third with Bregman sliding over to short.

J.B. Bukauskas was the Astros first round selection in 2017 and he took the mound for the start in the exhibition finale. He had a much better Minute Maid Park debut than Forrest Whitley did. He scattered three hits over his four innings of work allowing two runs on a fourth-inning home run. He struck out three Pirates two with a fastball and one with his breaking pitch. One gripe with the outing would be he wasn't exactly economical with his pitched throwing 63 but just 30 for strikes.

Corbin Martin was a second round selection for the Astros in 2017. He relieved Bukauskas and tossed four innings of scoreless relief. His fastball sat in the high 90's for a good portion of his outing producing two strikeouts while his slider added two more strikeouts. He would add a fifth punch out with a change-up. The former Texas A&M pitcher was the most impressive of the highly touted Astros prospect arms.

George Springer annihilated a baseball into left-center field for the Astros lone run of the day.

Aledmys Díaz is thought to be the new Marwin Gonzalez with his versatility but he struggled to hit this spring. He had the most at-bats on the team in the springs and slashed (AVG/OBP/SLG) .154/.241/.212.

Tony Kemp posted the highest on-base percentage of regularly playing Astros players this spring with a .490 on-base percentage. Alex Bregman was close with .488 himself.

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Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After dropping the middle game to the Rangers to split the first two games, the Astros looked for an improved offensive showing in the finale on Thursday night to take the series. Here is a rundown of the rubber game:

Final Score: Astros 2, Rangers 1.

Record: 25-25, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (4-3, 3.82 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07 ERA).

Valdez another Houston pitcher to thrive against Rangers

Much like Jose Urquidy on Tuesday and Lance McCullers JR. on Wednesday, Framber Valdez put up an excellent pitching line on Thursday against the Rangers. After allowing two singles in the first and a single in the second, he would settle in and hold the Rangers to just one baserunner, which came via a walk through six frames.

He would try to get through the seventh, but after a long at-bat and one-out double, Dusty Baker would stop his night and go to the bullpen. Unfortunately, that double would end up scoring as Josh James would allow an RBI-single, charged to Valdez, before finishing the inning. Along the way, Valdez was able to ring up eleven Rangers. His final line: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 0 HR, 100 P.

Kyle Tucker gets the big hit of the night

Luckily, Houston was still in the lead after the Rangers' run, thanks to a big hit by Kyle Tucker back in the second inning. After Alex Bregman reached base on a walk to become the first runner for the Astros, Kyle Tucker would break out of his recent slump with a two-run home run, putting Houston ahead 2-0 at the time.

Jordan Lyles was otherwise handling the Astros just like Kyle Gibson the night prior, who threw a complete-game shutout. Other than the Tucker homer, Lyles allowed another hit in the second and one in the third before retiring the next 12 Astros in order before an error in the seventh broke that streak, giving Houston their first baserunner since two outs in the third.

Houston takes the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James returned to the mound to start the eighth, and he would get a 1-2-3 inning against the top of Texas' lineup, including back-to-back strikeouts to end it. After another scoreless inning by Houston at the plate, that would set up a save opportunity in the top of the ninth. The opportunity would go to Brooks Raley, and he would notch the save with a scoreless inning, giving Houston the series and moving them back up to .500 at 25-25.

Up Next: The Astros' final three regular-season games played at Minute Maid Park in 2020 are this weekend in a series against the Diamondbacks. In Friday's 7:10 PM opener, Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.77 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston while Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.15 ERA) will be the starter for Arizona.

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