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Morton, Stassi lead Astros over Padres 4-1 for series win

April 8, 2018

Houston Astros starting pitcher Charlie Morton delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, April 8, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros right-hander Charlie Morton often marvels at the nameplates above the lockers in the corner of the clubhouse where his fellow starters sit.

Morton, the No. 5 starter on a pitching staff that is arguably the best in baseball, continued to dominate and Max Stassi hit a three-run homer as the defending champion Astros beat the San Diego Padres 4-1 on Sunday to win the three-game series.

“I feel really fortunate to be part of this staff,” Morton said. “I come to the park each day and I look at the wall over here — just the pitching staff that I’m on — I feel very fortunate to be part of it.”

Morton (2-0) allowed four hits and three walks for one unearned run while striking out seven in six innings. It was a nearly identical performance to his season debut, when he allowed three hits, two walks and no runs while striking out six in a 6-1 win over Baltimore. He also got the final 12 outs in Game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers to help secure Houston’s first championship.

On a rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole, Morton became just the eighth Astros starter in franchise history to give up zero earned runs in his first two starts to a season. He extended his winning streak at Minute Maid Park to six games, including the postseason, a seven-start span in which he’s 6-0 with a 1.09 ERA.

Stassi’s first home run of the year bounced off the facade behind left field, scoring Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez, who led off the fifth inning with singles.

“You always want to contribute to the team’s win and it felt good,” Stassi said. “We haven’t been swinging the bats like we normally can, but that’s baseball. I know for sure we’ll turn it around real quick.”

Reddick later added a solo home run, also off of Padres starter Tyson Ross (1-1), to push Houston’s lead back to three runs after San Diego scored in the sixth.

Austin Hedges grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Chase Headley for San Diego. Headley advanced to second on an error by Houston third baseman Alex Bregman.

Ross allowed four runs on six hits while striking out seven in six innings.

“I think there will be a lot more wins if I can throw the ball like that consistently versus the first game,” Ross said. “I’ve got some things to learn from this one and get better for next time.”

The Astros entered Sunday with just 10 hits in the first two games against San Diego, all singles.

Houston found a way to warm up the bats in what was the coldest first pitch in a regular-season game in Minute Maid Park history. The 52-degree temperature over the opened roof topped the previous coldest first pitch of 57 degrees, on April 8, 2007.

The Astros now head to Minnesota, where Monday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the 30s.

“The elements are going to be horrible,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “It’s just cold. There’s no way around it. If they tell us to play, we’re going to play.”

Brad Peacock pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his first save of the season. Houston’s bullpen allowed just one base runner after Morton left the game after the sixth. Will Harris allowed a walk in the seventh inning, and Joe Smith and Peacock retired all three batters they faced.

The 2-8 Padres left eight runners on base.

“In some instances, we’ve gotten our pitch, we’ve just missed it,” manager Andy Green said. “Other instances, we’ve expanded the zone and put ourselves in bad situations trying to be too eager to hit. You just keep grinding.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Padres: Reliever Kirby Yates will likely avoid the disabled list despite leaving Saturday night’s game with a right ankle injury after throwing just one pitch. Green said Yates was still sore Sunday and wasn’t available but would be re-evaluated on Monday. As the Padres’ primary setup man, he has yet to allow a run in four appearances over 3 2/3 innings, striking out five.

Astros: 1B Yuli Gurriel, on the disabled list after breaking his hand in February, had a double on Sunday in his rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Corpus Christi.

SPRINGER’S EARLY EXIT

Astros outfielder George Springer left Sunday’s game with leg soreness and stiffening following an infield single in the fifth. Hinch said he was “completely fine” and “probably should have stayed in the game” and that Springer will likely serve as designated hitter on Monday.

HOT START

At 8-2, Houston matched its best 10-game start to a season, previously accomplished by the 1972 Astros. At the same point last season, the Astros were 6-4. Outscoring opponents 47-25 through 10 games, the Astros also have a much wider run differential than last season, when they started 38-40 through 10.

THEY SAID IT

“We didn’t do a lot this series offensively, but we did enough to win the series. You can’t complain too much about how you win as long as you win.” — Hinch

UP NEXT

Padres: Clayton Richard (0-1, 4.50 ERA) will seek redemption in the first half of a two-game road trip Monday against Colorado. Richard was tagged for five runs on eight hits in five innings of a 5-2 loss to the Rockies last Wednesday.

Astros: Justin Verlander (1-0, 2.31) will start Monday for the opener of a three-game series in Minnesota. Verlander has allowed just three earned runs on 10 hits and three walks while striking out 14 in 11 2/3 innings across his first two starts this season.

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