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CIN@TEX: Darvish strikes out eight over 6 2/3 innings

The Astros got their season series against their in-state division rival Rangers off to a good start on Opening Night. Since then, it's been a whole other story.

The Rangers have rattled off six consecutive wins -- including Friday's 10-5 one -- since the Astros' 8-2 win at Minute Maid Park on March 31, dominating not only an in-state rivalry, but a divisional one, as well, with the Astros joining the American League West.

The second leg of this weekend's three-game series is Saturday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where the Astros visit for a series for the first time this season after hosting Texas twice. Dallas Keuchel will take on baseball's strikeout leader, Yu Darvish, who is searching for his ninth win.

"As the season goes on, you're going to keep facing pitchers you've faced before and that helps you to look for the pitches you feel comfortable with," second baseman Jose Altuve said of Darvish, who is 2-0 in two starts against the Astros this year. "He throws pitches with a lot of movement, he throws them for strikes. He has a lot of out pitches, like the slider and the split."

Darvish is 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA in three career starts against the Astros.

Kuechel is back on a regular routine after being skipped in the rotation June 25, when he threw 41 pitches in 2 2/3 innings of relief instead.

He was shaky in his last start: 4 2/3 innings, eight hits, five earned runs, five walks. It was the fewest innings he has pitched in a start all season. And he knows he'll have his work cut out for him Saturday as he looks to get back on track and help give the bullpen a break after it threw 4 1/3 innings in the opener.

"It's not just [Darvish] -- he's a great pitcher -- but it's pitching against a great team, a great franchise," Kuechel said. "Any time I can get a chance to throw here, I made my first start here, so it's going to be always special.

"When I come back here, I don't need to rile myself up. I'll be quite in the game."

Rangers: Darvish racking up K's, using heater
While he broke a career-long seven-game winless stretch Sunday against the Reds, Darvish also became the second pitcher in Major League history to record at least 300 strikeouts in his first 37 big league games. Dwight Gooden was the other in 1984-85.

"Since I started to pitch really well at the end of last season, it carried over to this year," Darvish said. "So far, I haven't been hurt and I'm healthy. Overall, I think it's really good."

He threw 117 pitches in 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Reds, and 72 percent of them were fastballs.

"This last time up, I thought he mixed his pitches well," manager Ron Washington said. "Of course, when you look at the percentages, he threw more fastballs. But it was his slider, cutter and all of the other pitches that made the difference, not just the fastball."

Astros: Wallace slugging since return
• Infielder Brett Wallace has three homers since rejoining the Astros on June 25 and has a hit in six of his eight games with an at-bat since rejoining the club. He has an RBI in four of those eight games, and five of his seven hits since his recall have gone for extra bases.

• In his 14 outings since May 11, right-hander Jose Cisnero has gone 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA (five earned runs in 25 2/3 innings) and 30 strikeouts.

Worth noting
• Astros president Reid Ryan is in Arlington for the weekend, his first game back at the Rangers' home since assuming his current position with the Astros. He is the son of Rangers CEO and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

Reid Ryan was drafted by the Rangers in the 17th round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft and played two Minor League seasons (1994-95) in the system.

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