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Keuchel throws first career shutout

HOUSTON -- The Astros' most impressive win of the year featured some timely hits, including a pair of home runs, four double plays on defense and the best performance of Dallas Keuchel's promising Major League career.

A day after the Astros set a club record by being shut out despite 11 hits, they scored runs in bunches early and watched Keuchel work his magic for nine innings to blast the Rangers, 8-0, on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

"It was arguably our best game of the year," Astros manager Bo Porter said.

Keuchel (4-2) threw his second career complete game -- the Astros' first of 2014 -- and recorded his first career shutout by holding the Rangers to seven hits, six of them singles, and no walks while striking out seven batters. He has six quality starts in eight games.

"You've got to give credit to Keuchel, he pitched a good game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He had a good sinker, he changed speeds and he kept us off balance. He kept throwing his sinker, and we couldn't center it. We kept beating it into the ground."

It's the first shutout by an Astros pitcher since Brett Oberholtzer blanked Seattle on Sept. 1 last season. Keuchel has pitched in seven games following an Astros loss and has gone 5-2 in those games.

"It feels great," he said. "I would be lying if I said it didn't feel good, especially against that type of offense. I thought I was going to run into trouble there a couple of innings because they were beating the shift or hitting it off the cup and getting doubles. They're paid a lot of money for that reason, and I escaped some damage and got lucky."

Keuchel's gem also snapped the Rangers' 10-game winning streak at Minute Maid Park and put the Astros in position to win their first series against Texas in six years if they can take Wednesday's finale. The Rangers have won 15 consecutive series since dropping two of three in Houston from June 24-26, 2008.

Matt Harrison (1-1), who started for the Rangers on Opening Day last year, was tagged for three runs in the second inning, including a two-run homer by L.J. Hoes, before a stiff back forced the lefty's departure with two outs.

"We needed somebody to come out there and jump-start the offense a little bit," Hoes said. "Bo and our hitting coaches are stressing getting on top of this team and not playing from behind so much. I just got a good pitch to hit and was able to put a good swing on it."

Rookie outfielder George Springer, who drew a career-high three walks, put the Astros ahead, 4-0, in the fourth when he shot a single into right field past a drawn-in infield, scoring Jose Altuve, who tripled.

Springer got ahead of reliever Justin Germano 3-0 and was sitting at 3-2 when he singled. Porter said it showed the evolution of Springer in that he stayed on the ball and didn't chase a couple of pitches early in the count.

"It's good when you have a player and the staff gives him information you know will help him and when you see him go out and be able execute the information, that lets you know they're coachable and they have the skill sets to do it," Porter said. "It's a matter of getting more and more repetition and understanding the adjustments which different pitchers are going to make."

The first four Astros hitters reached in the fifth against Germano. Jesus Guzman walked and Chris Carter doubled to left field to start the rally. Hoes scored Guzman with an infield single, and catcher Carlos Corporan hit his fourth homer of the season, a three-run shot to right, to make it 8-0.

"We kind of needed that," Corporan said. "We had it rough last night."

The Astros banged out 11 hits for the fourth consecutive game. The last time they had 11 hits or more in four straight games was May 28-31, 2012. Altuve went 2-for-5 to raise his average to .301, and Chris Carter (3-for-4) and Hoes (2-for-4) each had big days at the plate.

"I thought Hoes' home run was a big home run, but I thought Corporan's home run was huge as well," Porter said. "Again, these are some of the big hits that have been eluding us. Springer had a tremendous at-bat with a man on third base and less than two outs."

Corporan said the homer was nice, but the catcher smiled from ear to ear when talking about Keuchel. He raved about his maturity and proud he is of his progress.

"He's making better pitches," Cop said. "He didn't throw one pitch in the middle of the plate today. He did give them one chance. Even the base hit he gave up in the last inning, it was down and away and a weak ground ball. That's how focused he was with an eight-run lead. He kept pitching like a 0-0 game."

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