ARLINGTON — A.J. Hinch hopped from the dugout to end an Easter evisceration. The manager motored toward the mound where a meltdown manifested for the second straight game.
Hinch removed the baseball from Collin McHugh’s right hand, offered a cursory pat to his pitcher’s backside and, at last, allowed him pardon from this punishment.
McHugh meandered toward the dugout and into the clubhouse, carrying the worst start of his 180-game professional career with him. Texas tattooed eight hits and scored 10 runs while he pitched, offering the Astros a deficit too vast for their late game uprising to erase.
Down 10-1 after McHugh exited, Houston scored five times in the sixth inning. Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick crushed solo home run in the eighth, paring the gap to three.
George Springer scalded a solo shot to begin the ninth against Rangers closer Jose Leclerc — one of a season-high five long balls launched by the Astros lineup looking to atone for an abysmal start.
Houston’s heroics were admirable but, in the end, cosmetic in a game undone by McHugh’s putrid pitching. They placed the tying run at third base against Leclerc in the ninth, but could not complete an unbelievable rally. Robinson Chirinos struck out against Shawn Kelley, stranding the bases loaded.
Houston lost 11-10, dropping their second series against an intrastate rival while witnessing wretched performances by two of its staunchest starters.
Texas crushed Gerrit Cole on Saturday night before massacring McHugh on Sunday. The Astros engineered an offensive uprising after each man departed. The deficit with which they left was too great to overcome.
In a 9-4 loss on Saturday, Cole gave up a career-worst eight earned runs and contended he was tipping his pitches. The righthander refused to assign that sole blame. “I don’t want to throw a pity party,” he said, finally bearing responsibility for “the worst start of my career, probably.”
McHugh can now share the sentiment. McHugh’s previous four starts yielded a combined six earned runs. He entered Sunday with a 1.96 ERA, the lowest of Houston’s five-man starting rotation. When he exited, it was 4.78. Cole carries a 5.22 clip after his disastrous day.
Just two qualified pitchers held opponents to a lower OPS than McHugh. Houston’s 31-year-old righthander possessed a .154 batting average against — the third-lowest in the sport.
Before McHugh departed, Texas sent 21 batters to face him. Nine mustered hits. Another walked and another was hit by a pitch. McHugh allowed the leadoff man aboard in each of the four innings he worked. Each came around to score.
McHugh threw 65 pitches. Just nine generated a swing and miss. The Rangers roped his four-seam fastball, averaging a 97 mph exit velocity on the six they put into play.
Hunter Pence pulverized a pitiful slider for a solo home run in the third, a missile that exited the former Astro’s bat at 113.1 mph and gave a distinct illustration to the type of afternoon McHugh was enduring.
The slider keyed McHugh’s magnificent four-start beginning. After re-learning the pitch last season deploying it out of the bullpen, McHugh threw it more than any offering in his arsenal.
Thirty-four of his 65 pitches on Sunday were sliders. The Rangers swung and missed nine times, falling far below the 45.6 percent whiff rate the pitch carried during the season.
A pitch after Pence’s home run, Logan Forsythe creamed a center-cut fastball for another home run. McHugh observed its flight and watched it land, creating a six-run deficit his inefficiency would only augment.