HOUSTON (AP) After moving one-half game ahead of the slumping New York Yankees for the AL's best record with a win over the Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros were already looking ahead to their next challenge.
They are determined to play better against the visiting Athletics this weekend after the AL West bottom-dwellers swept them in Oakland late last month.
''There's a lot of baseball left and we've got to keep working,'' catcher Martin Maldonado said. ''We've got a new series coming up and we've got to take that series more seriously after we got swept by them last time. We've got ... to have that winning mentality, especially in those three games.''
Framber Valdez threw seven shutout innings, Maldonado and Alex Bregman homered with three RBIs each, and the Astros beat the Rangers 7-3 on Thursday 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 as the Astros improved to 72-41.
''It was outstanding to be back,'' Baker said. ''Especially when you come back with the win and come back with Framber throwing the game that he threw.''
Houston roughed up rookie Cole Ragans (0-1) for five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
''He didn't have his best command and his best stuff today,'' Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. ''But I will say he battled through the game.''
Jeremy Pena 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.
''He pitched an outstanding game,'' Baker said. '' He's very serious about his work and was very composed.''
Thursday was Valdez's 19th straight quality start, which is the longest streak in the majors this season and ranks second in franchise history. He has thrown a career-high 142 innings this season, which leads the AL.
Bregman helped the Astros pad the lead with an RBI single in the seventh inning and Aledmys Diaz extended it to 7-0 with 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 Friday night in the series opener against Oakland. Adam Oller (1-5, 7.63) is scheduled to start for the A's.
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