World Series MVP George Springer hit a leadoff homer in the season opener for the second year in a row, Justin Verlander pitched six scoreless innings and the Houston Astros started their championship defense with a 4-1 win over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.
Jake Marisnick also homered for the Astros, whose 57th year as a franchise began with them as reigning World Series champs for the first time.
Springer hit a 2-0 pitch off lefty Cole Hamels (0-1) into the right-field seats, becoming the only player in MLB history with leadoff homers in consecutive season openers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was the 100th career homer for the 28-year-old right fielder starting his fifth big league season – he hit five home runs in the Series against the Dodgers, connecting in the final four games.
Elvis Andrus led off the ninth against Ken Giles, the third Astros reliever, with a double. Andrus scored on a wild pitch and the Rangers avoided being shut out in a home opener for the first time since 1992.
Verlander (1-0) struck out five, walked two and allowed only four singles. He is 6-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his six regular-season starts since his last-minute approval of a trade from the Detroit Tigers last Aug. 31 that made him eligible for the Astros’ postseason roster. He was 5-0 last September, then won four more postseason games, and was the AL Championship Series MVP.
With Andrus and Adrian Beltre on base with two outs in the sixth, Verlander struck out young slugger Nomar Mazara with a 96mph fastball on his 90th and final pitch.
Hamels struck out seven and walked four in 5 2-3 innings. He allowed three runs on five hits.
Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock each threw a scoreless inning in relief for the Astros.
Astros: 1B Yuli Gurriel is recovering from left hand surgery last month, but started the season on baseball’s restricted list to serve his five-game suspension – for making an inappropriate gesture toward Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish in the World Series – rather than on the disabled list. Manager A.J. Hinch said the Astros will determine after the first five games if Gurriel is healthy enough to join the team.
Rangers: Four pitchers started the season on the 10-day disabled list: lefty Martin Perez (recovering from right elbow surgery) and right-handers Tony Barnette (lower back strain), Tim Lincecum (blister on right middle finger) and Ricardo Rodriguez (right biceps tendinitis).
Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel (14-5 last season), the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, starts against Rangers newcomer Doug Fister (5-9 for Boston). Fister was the first of 166 major league free agents to finalize a big league contract, and first to switch teams, during the offseason. The right-hander was unsigned last season until May, and his first big MLB start was June 25 in Boston’s 75th game.
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