MAKING HISTORY

Astros' Ronel Blanco shines bright again, sets new MLB benchmark

Astros' Ronel Blanco shines bright again, sets new MLB benchmark
Blaco flirts with another no-no. Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

Ronel Blanco insists he wasn't thinking about throwing another no-hitter for the Houston Astros. Just about else was as he kept retiring batters — all the way until a hard grounder got into the outfield for a single in the sixth inning.

“We thought he was going to go the whole way,” Astros reliever Ryan Pressly said. “And come the sixth inning I was like, he's going to do it again.”

Manager Joe Espada had similar thoughts, even though he already had decided that was going to be the final inning for Blanco in his bid to join Johnny Vander Meer for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938 with no-hitters in consecutive starts.

Six nights after throwing a no-hitter at home against Toronto in his first start of the season, Blanco held the Texas Rangers without a hit until Adolis García had a clean single up the middle with two outs in the sixth of Houston's 3-1 win Sunday night. Blanco then retired Evan Carter and was done.

“I really wasn’t thinking about that,” Blanco said through a translator about another no-hitter. “I was just trying to think about doing my best pitches to get the batters out.”

The 30-year-old Dominican right-hander has thrown 15 scoreless innings through his first two starts this season, allowing only one hit in the process.

Blanco is the first pitcher in baseball's modern era (since 1901) to allow one or no hits over at least 15 innings in the first two appearances of a season, according to Stathead. The only other pitcher since 1978 with that kind of stretch over any two-game span was Max Scherzer, who allowed one hit over 18 innings for Washington in June 2015.

And since the expansion era began in 1961, Blanco is the first pitcher to throw 14 2/3 innings at the start of a season before allowing a hit, according to Elias Sports. Those 44 outs recorded are nine more than the previous mark that had been matched three times.

“It doesn’t really surprise me. I’m a believer that, you know, all the hard work that you do is going to pay off at some time or another,” Blanco said. “I knew that this was going to come, so not really surprised with these things that are happening in my career."

Blanco made his big league debut with the Astros in 2022, and made his first seven starts last season. He has now pitched in 26 games overall.

While not unhittable in spring training, Blanco threw 15 2/3 scoreless innings in his five games before the Astros broke camp from Florida. He allowed six hits over that span.

“We always knew how good he is throwing strikes. He’s aggressive in the zone,” Espada said. “He's tough. He’s not scared of challenging hitters. We knew that the makeup aspect of things, but the way he’s been able to pitch and navigate tough lineups, he's been pretty impressive.”

The Rangers had 31 hits in the first two games of the series, and for the first time since 2018 had back-to-back games in which every batter in their starting lineup had a hit. The World Series champions finished with two hits against Blanco and three Houston relievers, and didn't score until the ninth inning.

"He’s pitching his way into establishing himself as one of the starters,” Espada said. “And that’s what you do. You get an opportunity, you take advantage of it and you run with it. And he’s doing just that.”

After throwing 105 pitches in his no-hitter Monday night, Blanco had walked four batters and his pitch count was getting high already before going out for the sixth. Espada wanted to keep him around 90 pitches, which is right where he was after getting his final out.

“Not necessarily,” Blanco said when asked if he knew he was throwing his last inning even before giving up a hit. “But I knew that I had thrown a lot of pitches so I knew there was a possibility.”

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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