By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — Framber Valdez threw seven shutout innings, Martín Maldonado and Alex Bregman homered with three RBIs each, and the Houston Astros beat the Texas Rangers 7-3 on Thursday.
The Astros (72-41) moved one-half game ahead of the slumping New York Yankees for the AL’s best record in manager Dusty Baker’s return after he missed five games with COVID-19.
Valdez (11-4) allowed four singles and struck out eight to get his third straight win.
Houston roughed up rookie Cole Ragans (0-1) for five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
Jeremy Peña and Jake Meyers hit consecutive singles with one out in the second inning before Maldonado’s soaring shot made it 3-0.
Yuli Gurriel singled to start Houston’s fifth, and Bregman’s one-out home run clanged off the wall in left field, extending the lead to 5-0 and chasing the 24-year-old Ragans, who made his second major league start.
Ezequiel Duran singled with no outs in the third before Valdez hit Bubba Thompson with a pitch. A single by Adolis Garcia with two outs loaded the bases, but Valdez retired Jonah Heim to escape the jam.
Heim was the first of 11 straight batters Valdez sat down before Leody Taveras singled with one out in the seventh. Charlie Culberson sent Taveras to third with a single, but Valdez struck out Duran and Thompson to end the inning and his day.
Bregman helped the Astros pad the lead with an RBI single in the seventh inning and Aledmys Díaz extended it to 7-0 when he drove in a run on a sacrifice fly.
Gurriel, who entered the game in an 0-for-12 slump, matched a season high with three hits.
Nathaniel Lowe and Taveras both hit RBI singles in the eighth inning to cut the lead to 7-2. Marcus Semien homered with two outs in the ninth.
Rangers: RHP Joe Barlow (right index finger blister) is scheduled to make one more rehabilitation appearance before the team decides if he’s ready to return.
Astros: LHP Blake Taylor (elbow inflammation) was set to begin a rehabilitation assignment at Houston’s spring training complex in Florida.
Rangers: Texas has yet to name its starter for Friday night’s opener of a three-game series against visiting Seattle.
Astros: Luis Garcia (8-8, 3.93 ERA) will start for Houston in the opener of a three-game home series against Oakland Friday night. Adam Oller (1-5, 7.63) is scheduled to start for the A’s.
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