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HOU@TEX: Keuchel shuts down Rangers in MLB debut

ARLINGTON -- The next time the Astros see the Texas Rangers they'll both be members of the American League West. That's not exactly the kind of news that gets Astros fans too enthusiastic considering how much the Rangers have dominated them in recent years.

With the Rangers having secured the Lone Star Series winning Saturday, they went out Sunday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and proved just how far the talent gap is between the two clubs.

Colby Lewis held the Astros to three hits and one run while striking out 10 batters in seven innings, and Adrian Beltre's two-run homer capped a seven-run outburst in the sixth inning to lead the Rangers to a 9-3 win and a three-game sweep of the struggling Astros.

"You have to have a short memory and you can't dwell on what's happened in the past week," Astros catcher Jason Castro. "It's nice to be going home."

The Astros have lost 16 of their last 21 games overall, falling to 9-25 on the road this year. They went 3-6 on a road trip began with promise last weekend at the White Sox before losing two of three to the Giants in a series in which Matt Cain threw baseball's 22nd perfect game.

"I think we need to take a step back from all this, take a deep breath and kind of push the reset button and get back after it [Monday]," shortstop Jed Lowrie said.

The Astros had the lead in all three games against the Rangers, only to watch the two-time defending AL champions break them open with a big inning. They scored five in the fifth on Friday and five in the sixth on Saturday to coast to wins. It was the Rangers' seven-run outburst in the sixth that did in the Astros on Sunday.

"With a ballclub like this, if we give them a little crack they're able to come through," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "They've come through all three of these games with a big inning. What's tough is we're a strike away or a play from being made away from getting out of innings. That's how it is right now, and we have to make pitches make the plays to get out of it."

The Astros struck out 11 times Sunday, marking the 12th time in 15 games in June they reached double-digit strikeouts. The Astros were frustrated by the strike zone the entire game and it reached a boiling point in the ninth inning when pitching coach Doug Brocail was ejected by plate umpire Dale Scott for arguing balls and strikes.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City to make his Major League debut, pitched well for Astros. He worked five-plus innings and allowed four hits and one run, walking four batters. Keuchel carried a shutout into the sixth but was pulled after giving up a leadoff single.

"The kid made some pitches, especially with two outs," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We may not have been knocking him around, but we were working him and we got him out of the game."

Mills thought Keuchel escaping bases-loaded jams in the third and fourth innings had taken a lot out of him, so he pulled him after 91 pitches. He had thrown more than six innings only once in his final five starts at Oklahoma City.

"We were thrilled to death with what he did, but when we start putting him in territory he hasn't been, it's going to make it tough," Mills said.

Keuchel, who was working on eight days of rest, certainly pitched with poise and confidence.

"I wasn't really nervous," he said. "I think I was just ready for it."

The Rangers roughed up the Astros' bullpen for the rest of the inning, sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring seven runs. Fernando Rodriguez (1-7) relieved Keuchel and gave up one hit and four runs, and Beltre socked a two-run homer off David Carpenter.

A lackadaisical play in the field by the Astros only punctuated how badly the inning went for them. Elvis Andrus scored all the way from first base on a single when Houston right fielder Brian Bogusevic lobbed a throw into second base following Michael Young's RBI hit.

"It didn't look good," Mills said. "Bogusevic took the blame for not getting the ball in. It's a combination of things. But it didn't look good and it can't happen."

Carlos Lee returned from the disabled list and had a pair of hits for the Astros, including a two-run single in the eighth inning.

The Astros limp home to face the Royals on Monday to start a 10-game homestand, and they can take solace in the fact they've gone 18-14 at Minute Maid Park this season.

"We played some really tough teams [on the road trip]," Lowrie said. "We saw two division leaders and San Francisco is right there as well. We faced some really tough pitching the last two series, too. I think we just need to get back to getting guys on base and giving yourselves the opportunity to come through with the big hit. We've struck out a lot, but I think that's partly due to the pitching we've faced."

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