Nolasco, Pujols lead Angels past Astros

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[September 23, 2016]  HOUSTON -- It's easy to lose sight of the effectiveness with which Angels right-hander Ricky Nolasco has pitched of late, particularly given the lack of stakes facing Los Angeles down the home stretch. On Thursday night, the Houston Astros caught a glimpse.

Nolasco continued his recent excellence with seven shutout innings and Albert Pujols' early home run stood up as the Angels snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Astros with a 2-0 victory at Minute Maid Park.

Nolasco (7-14) produced his third scoreless outing for the Angels (67-86) since being acquired from the Twins on Aug. 1. He allowed five hits and one walk with five strikeouts to follow the six scoreless innings he tossed at the Blue Jays on Saturday.

After using double plays to escape his two previous innings unscathed, Nolasco retired the middle of the Astros order in order in the seventh. He also twirled a shutout against the Reds on Aug. 31 and has surrendered just seven runs over his last 35 innings covering five starts.

"I was spinning the ball pretty good," Nolasco said. "I thought I was feeling the strike zone for the most part. I was challenging with fastballs when I had to. I was pitching off some good breaking balls to keep them off balanced."

Right-hander JC Ramirez preserved the shutout despite allowing a pair of hits in the eighth inning. Andrew Bailey followed by picking up his fifth save. The Angels defeated the Astros (81-72) on May 27 in the first game of the season series, saddling Houston right-hander Mike Fiers with a loss that evening in Anaheim. Eleven consecutive series losses later, the Angels got the best of Fiers once again.

Pujols blasted his 31st home run off Fiers (11-8) with one out in the first inning. It was his 53rd career homer against Houston and 28th home run at Minute Maid Park.

"Obviously, you want to take the lead right away, especially when those guys have been playing pretty well against us this year," Pujols said. "It was one of those things that I got a good pitch to hit and got a good swing."

Fiers struck out three in the first inning, but that frame was his bumpiest by far. His one-out walk to Mike Trout set up Pujols' two-run home run on the first pitch.

Two batters later, Andrelton Simmons doubled to the right-center field and advanced to third on an error by center fielder Jake Marisnick. Fiers recovered to strike out Jefry Marte, initiating a string in which he retired 13 consecutive batters.

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"Just came out of the gate slow and made too many mistakes in the first inning," said Fiers, who struck out a season-high nine batters over 6 1/3 innings. "Pujols capitalized on a first-pitch fastball and after that I settled in and got my pitches working and kept them off-balance for the most part. I felt good overall and I ended up going into the seventh."

Armed with a lead before he even took the mound, Nolasco pitched with the intention of maintaining it. He worked around solo baserunners in the first and third innings and struck out the side in between in the second. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve singled for a second consecutive at-bat in the fourth inning but was quickly erased when Carlos Correa followed by grounding into a fielder's choice.

In the fifth and sixth Nolasco induced double-play grounders, first from Tony Kemp and then Yulieski Gurriel after George Springer led off the sixth with a walk.

"Nolasco did a good job of moving the ball around," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We chased a ton out of the zone tonight, which is not something we've done in the last week. Part of that was our anxiousness, part of that was certainly his effectiveness."

NOTES: Astros RHP Lance McCullers completed his first bullpen session since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow discomfort on Aug. 3. McCullers tossed 30 pitches, all fastballs and changeups, and will be re-evaluated Friday to determine his next course of action. There is no timetable for his return and he will include curveballs in his next bullpen session before facing live batters. ... Angels OF Kole Calhoun went through a rigorous pregame workout and will return to the starting lineup on Friday night after missing three games to be with his wife for the birth of their son. ... Astros television broadcaster Bill Brown announced his retirement effective at the end of this season. Brown, who joined the club in 1987, will call his final game Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners.

[ 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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