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CLE@HOU: Keuchel goes the distance for first MLB win

If you've ever seen Andrew Cashner walk in to the Padres' clubhouse with his Texas-sized 6-foot-6 frame, ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots, there's no doubt the 25-year-old righty is a Lone-Star-stater through and through.

It's fitting, then, that Cashner will rejoin the Padres and assume his new role in the starting rotation in Houston, a city 40 miles from his suburban hometown of Conroe. His task is also Texas-sized: solidify a spot in a San Diego rotation decimated by injuries and desperately in need of a durable, consistent hurler.

A closer at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Cashner did the majority of his work this season out of the Padres' bullpen before being sent down to Double-A San Antonio June 10 to build endurance and stretch out from reliever to starter. In three starts for the Missions, Cashner was 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 22 strikeouts, including six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts in his last outing. That performance Saturday was a strong enough showing to convince the Padres' brass that the righty was ready to rejoin the club.

"We all feel as though he's in the right spot physically and mentally to start a Major League game, and feel confident throwing 100 pitches or more," Padres manager Bud Black said.

When Cashner takes the hill, it will certainly be in familiar surroundings. He said he used to come to Astros games growing up, and remembers watching Albert Pujols homer off then Astros closer Brad Lidge to win Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series. Now, he says, his family and friends will be in the seats watching him.

Trying to spoil the Texan's homecoming will be Dallas Keuchel, a 24-year-old Oklahoman. The southpaw is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts this season, most recently a complete-game win over Cleveland in his last outing on June 23, his first career victory.

Keuchel carved out a place in the Houston rotation with his impressive Major League debut and the win against the Indians, as manager Brad Mills announced Tuesday that the Astros would adopt a six-man rotation through the All-Star break. Houston has seen enough from Keuchel that even when the man he was called up to replace, starter Bud Norris, returns from the disabled list, Keuchel will remain to see just how far he can carry his early success.

"That's what you want guys to do. You want to make those decisions difficult," Mills said after Keuchel's complete game. "When a guy throws your first complete game of the year and throws two real good games, I think you've got to kind of wonder a little bit."

The Astros have to wonder whether they or Cashner will feel more at home Thursday. So far this season, Minute Maid Park has been very friendly to the Astros, who have played to a 23-18 record at home, as opposed to a 9-25 mark on the road. Thursday's series finale is also the final game of a 10-game homestand for the Astros, who begin a series in Chicago on Friday.

Padres: Alonso returns to lineup
After being absent from the starting lineup for three games with a sore left knee, rookie first baseman Yonder Alonso returned to the starting lineup Wednesday night. Alonso, who is second among Major League rookies with 17 doubles, was 2-for-3 with a walk before being lifted for a pinch-runner in the ninth.

The 25-year-old received an injection in the knee after Saturday's game in San Diego to ease the soreness of what Black said was more wear and tear than any specific injury issue.

Astros: Starters on a roll
Lucas Harrell's shutout on Wednesday was in keeping with some spectacular pitching by Astros' starters of late. In their last nine games, Houston hurlers have thrown to a 2.06 ERA in 70 innings.

The complete game was just the second of the season for the Astros after Keuchel's. Houston starters have been pitching deep into ballgames during this recent run, averaging over seven innings per start since June 17.

The pitching success is quite the turnaround for the staff, which is still working to an ERA of nearly 4.50 on the season, the fifth-worst mark in the Major Leagues.

Worth noting
• The Padres acquired Andrew Cashner from the Cubs this offseason in the trade that sent first baseman Anthony Rizzo to Chicago. The 22-year-old Rizzo was called up by the Cubs ahead of Tuesday's game with the Mets, and he went 2-for-4 with the game-winning RBI in that game.

• Cashner has made eight career appearances against the Astros, tied for the most he's made against any team. His two career wins against Houston are also his most against any opponent.

• Padres' outfielder Chris Denorfia's 12-game hitting streak was snapped Wednesday when he failed to get a hit in his pinch-hit appearance in the eighth. The streak was the club's longest this season.

• Keuchel's complete game was the first by an Astros rookie since May 2006 (Taylor Buchholz). Interestingly, according Elias, the last pitcher to throw a complete game in his first or second Major League appearance was Clay Buchholz, who threw a no-hitter in his second career outing in 2007. Clay has said that he and Taylor are distant cousins.

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