Astros look to end skid vs. Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- To the starting pitchers for Sunday's series finale between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, one thing has been a problem of late.

It has not been mechanics, unlucky pitch selection or misplays in the field. Instead, something much more organic and annoying has been at fault: their necks.

Texas righty Andrew Cashner (7-8, 3.36 ERA) was scratched from his last start, which was scheduled for Tuesday in New York against the Mets, with neck stiffness. He couldn't even turn his head when he woke up, so he couldn't pitch. That, at least temporarily, put a hold on Cashner's hot streak. He has won three games in a row, matching the longest streak of his career. Over those three games, he holds a 2.37 ERA and has limited opponents to a .217 batting average.

He'll get a chance to keep that going on Sunday against the team with the best record in the American League, and the Rangers will aim to sweep the Astros after Houston did the same to Texas back in June the last time these teams met in Arlington.

"It's doing all right," Cashner said of his neck stiffness. "I have been seeing a chiropractor and it's feeling better. I'll be able to make my start."

Cashner has made three starts against Houston this year, but he's gone 0-3 with a 6.19 ERA in those outings. In 13 career appearances against the Astros, including five starts, Cashner is 2-5 with 4.89 ERA.

Since July, Cashner holds an overall 2.20 ERA, fifth-lowest mark in the American League behind James Paxton, Sonny Gray, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale.

On the other side of the equation is Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel (9-2, 2.87), who is in the midst of a rough stretch since returning from his own neck issues. He missed eight weeks with neck discomfort, but he returned on July 28.

In the three starts since coming off the disabled list, Keuchel is 0-2 with a 10.50 ERA, not at all resembling the dominant pitcher he was for the first few months of the season, when he had a 1.92 ERA in 12 starts.

However, Keuchel said he is feeling better after his most recent start than he did between any of those first three starts since returning.

"This is probably the best three or four days in between (starts) since the first couple of months," he told "I have no doubt tomorrow's going to be a lot better than the first three."

In his 19 career starts against Texas, Keuchel is 6-7 with a 4.04 ERA. He threw six shutout innings, allowing just three hits, while getting the win in his only start against the Rangers this season.

It'll be a hot one Sunday, as day games in Arlington aren't the friendliest conditions to play in, especially in an outdoor stadium.

"Luckily I've had a few experiences before here making day-game starts," Keuchel said. "It's like any other hot, humid place. You just kind of try to get used to it. I was out there for longer than I usually am yesterday breaking out a good sweat and doing some agilities and making sure I'm running out there and just trying to control my breathing. It's a tough place if you let it get into your mind."

He'll aim to right the ship for the Astros, who have been roughed up as of late. They have lost five straight games to begin their eight-game road trip and 11 of their last 14, including seven consecutive road games.

"Hopefully Dallas can get us back on track (Sunday), but it starts with the starting pitcher," Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who struggled with fastball command Saturday, told "I think we need to really go out there and attack these hitters and not give them too much credit and just be aggressive and things will start turning our way. It's a rough stretch right now, but we'll be able to pull through and go back on a run."
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