Justin Verlander is now two victories shy of 200 for his career.
It only feels like the first 198 have come against the Angels. In the past 11 months.
In his latest display of dominance, Houston’s Verlander pitched six more shutout innings in Anaheim on Saturday as the Astros cruised to a 7-0 win.
He now has strung together 23 consecutive scoreless innings at Angel Stadium, the longest stretch for an opponent since 1971.
“He’s got a second gear,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He brought it out today.”
The Angels have lost three in a row and four of five and, at 49-50, are below .500 for the first time since losing on opening day.
Twice during Verlander’s career, they’ve won four of five games he started against them, stretches that now seem like they belong in a distant and forgotten era.
On Saturday, they started a lineup that all time was 17 for 167 off him. That’s an average of .102, which is as sobering as the image the Angels must see when Verlander is on the mound.
Their best swings came from Shohei Ohtani, and he tried to bunt for a hit his first time up.
He followed that with a double off Verlander and then lining out to right field, both balls exiting Ohtani’s bat at or above 106 mph, an impressive number but the sort of hollow accomplishment the Angels were left holding on this day.
“All his pitches are plus pitches,” Ohtani said through an interpreter. “I was able to put a good swing on his fastball.”
Ohtani added a ninth-inning double off reliever Tony Sipp to rebound well after striking out in all three of his at-bats Friday.
His failed second-inning bunt was what Scioscia called “a shift-buster,” Ohtaniattempting to catch the Astros playing him to pull.
It followed a Justin Upton leadoff single and resulted in a forceout at second base, though Ian Kinsler then produced an infield single to put two runners aboard.
Verlander responded by simply going to that second gear. He struck out Luis Valbuena with three straight fastballs that measured 95, 96 and 97 mph.
He then struck out Martin Maldonado on four pitches, the last of which was a slider that dipped, relatively speaking, to 89.5 mph.
The Angels put two runners on again in the fourth, Ohtani following Upton’s one-out single with his double to the wall in right.
Again, Verlander shifted, striking out Kinsler with a 99-mph fastball (his hardest pitch of the season) and Valbuena after falling behind in the count 3-1.
Mike Trout finished with two strikeouts and a walk in three plate appearances versus Verlander, against whom he’s hitting .069.
Over his past 25 games, Trout is 18 for 84 with two doubles and two solo homers. He hasn’t driven in one of his teammates since June 19.
“Every player is going to go through some periods where they aren’t squaring the ball up as well as they are at other times,” Scioscia said. “These little pockets are just baseball.”
Out since June 10 because of bursitis in his right shoulder, Nick Tropeano returned just in time to start opposite Verlander.
He gave up two runs (one unearned) and two hits in five innings and reported no problems with an issue that Tropeano said had been bothering him “pretty much all season.”
“The biggest thing for me was to come out of this healthy,” he said, the Angels’ hitters likewise glad to escape their latest Verlander encounter intact. Beaten soundly again, but intact.