By KRISTIE RIEKEN AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Justin Verlander struck out 10 on Sunday and the Astros beat the Seattle Mariners 3-1 Sunday for a three-game sweep.
Another day, another dominant pitching performance by the Houston Astros.
A day after Astros newcomer Aaron Sanchez and three relievers combined on a no-hitter, Verlander (15-4) took over the major league wins lead and left with an AL-best 2.68 ERA.
Houston’s starters are 14-1 in the last 17 games, and Verlander has won his last five starts for the AL West leaders, striking out a combined 53 in that span.
“Each guy, when you create a competitive atmosphere like we have here, not that you want to one-up the guy before you, but you want to go out there and compete against some of the best in the world, and we’ve got a lot of the best in the world right here in the starting rotation,” Verlander said.
He didn’t give up a hit until Kyle Seager singled with two outs in the fourth inning. The Astros ace took a two-hit shutout in the seventh and exited after Seager led off with a home run.
“Verlander was really good today,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Oftentimes you see him with one or the other, the curveball or the slider going, and he had them both going today.”
Verlander’s 206 strikeouts rank second in the majors behind teammate Gerrit Cole (216). This is the fourth straight season the 36-year-old Verlander has fanned at least 200 batters and his ninth overall.
He’s reveling in the work of Houston’s rotation as the Astros roll toward the postseason.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “You just kind of stay in your own lane and try to keep doing what’s making you great, and at the same time you appreciate everything that’s going on around you.”
Next up for the Astros: Newly acquired All-Star Zack Greinke makes his Houston debut.
Roberto Osuna struck out one in the ninth for his 25th save. The victory improved Houston to 12-1 against Seattle this season and 38-12 against the AL West.
The Mariners couldn’t get much going on offense throughout this series, getting four hits on Sunday and managing just seven hits and three runs in the three games.
“It’s tough,” Seattle right fielder Dylan Moore said. “They’re obviously a good ballclub, but we can do better than that. Everybody in here is going to tell you that we didn’t play offensively to our potential or our standards that we hold ourselves to.”
Houston manager AJ Hinch raved about the work of not just his starters, but also the bullpen in this series.
“Everything from the attention to detail to the game planning to the execution and then to the bullpen coming in and getting huge outs, it’s a really good stretch for us,” he said. “One of the things that we pride ourselves in is preparation, and I think this series and leading up to this series it’s been excellent.”
Seattle opener Sam Tuivailala walked two in one-plus innings before Tommy Milone (1-6) came in. He yielded four hits and two runs in five innings for the loss.
The game was scoreless until the fourth, when Alex Bregman singled, Yordan Alvarez doubled and Carlos Correa singled for a run.
Bregman doubled with one out in the sixth and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Alvarez then hit a ball to the warning track in center field for a sacrifice fly. Alvarez got shaken up earlier in that at-bat when he fouled a ball off his knee.
Moore tripled with two outs in the Seattle fifth, but was left stranded when Verlander retired Mallex Smith for the third out.
Seager finished Verlander with his home run, and reliever Joe Smith worked around a single by J.P. Crawford.
Jake Marisnick singled in the Houston seventh, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Josh Reddick.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
The Astros observed a moment of silence before the game for the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso on Saturday that killed 20 and injured more than two dozen.
Astros: Pitching coach Brent Strom had gastrointestinal surgery after Saturday night’s game and won’t be with the team for a few days. Manager AJ Hinch said Strom would definitely be out for the team’s next series which begins on Tuesday, but wasn’t sure if he’d return for a road trip beginning on Friday. Bullpen coach Josh Miller will fill in for Strom until he returns.
Verlander is the seventh player in MLB history to strike out 200 or more batters in nine seasons. He joins Nolan Ryan (15), Randy Johnson (13), Roger Clemens (12), Tom Seaver (10), Pedro Martinez (9) and Bob Gibson (9) on the list.
Mariners: Seattle has an off day on Monday and the Mariners will use an opener to start the first of two games against San Diego on Tuesday.
Astros: Houston is also off on Monday before Greinke (10-4, 2.90) pitches Tuesday night at home against Colorado. The former Arizona ace was traded from the Diamondbacks on Wednesday for four prospects to boost Houston’s rotation behind Verlander and Cole.