Houston right-hander Justin Verlander continues to pitch to a level of exceptionality that not only belies his two-year absence following elbow surgery, but the Astros’ unwavering commitment to utilizing him judiciously with each start.

Verlander produced his third consecutive scoreless start in leading the Astros to a 2-1 victory over the visiting Texas Rangers on Saturday in the third contest of this four-game weekend series that concludes on Sunday. He allowed six hits — all singles — and recorded eight strikeouts over six innings while lowering his ERA to 1.22 and WHIP to .072, both of which lead the major leagues.

After making just one start in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Verlander has returned to post six consecutive winning decisions. Over his last three starts, he has allowed nine hits and issued five walks while notching 18 strikeouts in 19 innings.

After tossing a season-high 107 pitches in his previous start, Verlander threw 95 pitches against Texas, part of a routine that showcases his excellence while also keeping an eye on maintaining his health all season.

“He labored a little bit the last start but this start, he was good,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “His start before this, that 30-pitch inning in Washington took a lot of out him and he’s usually very efficient with his pitches, especially early in the game. We take that (pitch count) into consideration big time because we want him for the whole duration. Knock on wood he’s been excellent.”

Right-hander Jose Urquidy (3-1, 4.81 ERA) is the scheduled starter Sunday as the Astros pursue the series win.

Urquidy became the first Houston pitcher in 15 years to earn the victory despite allowing 12-plus hits in his previous start, surrendering four runs while notching one strikeout over five innings in the Astros’ 13-4 win against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. He is 2-0 with a 4.01 ERA over his last five appearances.

Urquidy is 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA over four career starts against the Rangers. In his previous start against Texas on Sept. 15, 2021, he allowed one run on two hits and one walk with six strikeouts over six innings in a 7-2 road victory.

Left-hander Taylor Hearn (2-2, 5.46 ERA) has the starting assignment for Texas in the series finale.

Hearn is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA over three starts this month, limiting opponents to a .196/.317/.353 slash line. He did not factor into the decision of his last start after allowing three runs on five hits and three walks with two strikeouts over four innings in Texas’ 10-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.

Hearn is 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA over eight career games (three starts) against the Astros, including a 1-1 record and 3.68 ERA as a starter. He took his first loss against Houston on April 26, allowing four runs on five hits and one walk with four strikeouts over five innings in a 5-1 setback. He has yet to record and decision and owns a 1.35 ERA in three career appearances (one start) in Houston.

After failing to record an extra-base hit off Verlander, the Rangers managed a leadoff double in the seventh inning and a one-out double in the eighth that subsequently resulted in their lone run. Texas would strand eight runners in the one-run loss.

“Those are games you wish you win,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “We had our chances.”

–Field Level Media