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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Justin Verlander's worst start with the Houston Astros might have been OK if not for Wilson Ramos.
Ramos drove in four runs in the first two innings against Verlander and the Tampa Bay Rays went on to a 5-2 win over the Astros on Saturday.
"I wasn't sharp, but also I didn't have luck on my side," Verlander said. "I made an adjustment during the third inning that I thought was good, but it was too little too late."
Verlander (9-4) gave up the most runs (5) and hits (9) of any of his 23 starts since his trade to Houston late last summer. He struck out eight in a season-low five innings after coming in with a major league-leading 1.82 ERA — though it was 4.34 in six June starts. The Astros have lost his last three starts.
Matt Duffy finished with three hits, including two in the first two innings, to help the Rays win for the seventh time in eight tames to move to .500 (41-41) for the first time since June 1.
"I gave up three hard-hit balls, all to the same guy. The rest of 'em, nobody hit the ball hard," Verlander said.
Ramos got the Rays on the scoreboard with a two-run double in the first, and made it 5-0 with a two-run single in the second. Those two at bats summarized Verlander's day.
"The first at bat, I put him in a 3-1 situation where, bases loaded, he knows a heater's coming, and he hit it off the wall. So that's my fault," Verlander said. "His next bat I got a ground ball up the middle on a slider, which is kind of what you're looking for. But it found a hole."
Tampa Bay has held opponents to two runs or fewer in five straight games for only the second time in franchise history.
"The way these guys are throwing right now, we're tough to beat," said Kevin Kiermaier, who scored in each of the first two innings.
Alex Bregman got the Astros on the board with a two-run homer in the sixth off Vidal Nuno. It was Bregman's 16th home run and his fifth in six games.
"They've been throwing the ball well over there, and we haven't really been able to put anything together," Bregman said. "Verlander was a little unfortunate today with some of the weak contact that went for hits, but we've got to do a better job of putting up runs for him.
Nuno (2-0) got the win after pitching 4 2/3 innings of relief, giving up two runs and four hits while striking out four. Sergio Romo pitched ninth for his seventh save in 11 opportunities.
Ryne Stanek pitched the first inning for Tampa Bay, giving up a single to Jose Altuve, Houston's only hit in the first four innings.
Adeiny Hechavarria made a fielding error on George Springer's grounder in the top of the sixth just before Bregman's homer. It ended a streak of 94 games and 319 chances in which the Rays' shortstop had not committed a miscue. It was the longest errorless streak in franchise history for a shortstop. Hechavarria's last error had come on July 30, 2017 at Yankee Stadium.
Astros: RHP Joe Smith (sore right elbow) will make what the Astros expect to be a final rehab appearance at Double-A Corpus Christi before being activated. ... 1B Yuli Gurriel (paternity leave) is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday.
Rays: RHP Wilmer Font was placed on the 10-day disabled and RHP Hunter Wood was recalled from Triple-A Durham. Manager Kevin Cash said an optimistic timeframe has Font missing eight weeks. ... Cash didn't completely rule out RHP Chris Archer (left abdominal strain) from returning after his first rehab start Tuesday night for Class A Charlotte.
The series finale will be a matchup of two of baseball's hottest pitchers. Houston RHP Charlie Morton (10-1, 2.54) has won three straight starts and has not given up an earned run in his last two. LHP Blake Snell (10-4, 2.31) did not give up a hit until the seventh inning of the Rays' 11-0 win against Washington on Monday night.
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