HOUSTON -- The Rangers found out what Alexi Ogando can do when he adds an effective changeup to accompany his power pitches. He can help the Rangers pitching staff make Major League history.
Ogando combined with four relievers on a five-hit shutout and 15 strikeouts in pitching the Rangers to a 4-0 victory over the Astros on Wednesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. When Joe Nathan struck out the side in the ninth, it gave the Rangers pitchers 43 strikeouts in their first three games.
That's the most ever by a pitching staff in the first three games of the season. They broke the old mark set by the Indians in 1966.
"I didn't even know that," Nathan said. "I just know there were quite a bit of strikeouts in the series. Obviously that didn't come into play in our minds."
The victory, the day after Yu Darvish just missed a perfect game, was the Rangers' second in their season-opening three-game series against the Astros. The Rangers are off on Thursday before facing the Angels at 1:05 p.m. CT Friday in their home opener at the Ballpark in Arlington.
"We really threw the ball well," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Obviously the first game got away from us, but the last two games we settled in. It's amazing when the lights turn on how good guys can get."
Ogando followed Darvish's dazzling performance by holding the Astros scoreless for 6 1/3 innings. He allowed four hits and a walk while setting a career high with 10 strikeouts. All three Rangers starters -- Matt Harrison, Darvish and Ogando -- tied or set career highs for strikeouts in a game during the series.
With Ogando, it was a matter of adding the changeup to his main repertoire of fastball and slider to keep hitters off-balance, and Pierzynski said they used the pitch more than usual on Wednesday.
"I worked hard in Spring Training on all three of my pitches," Ogando said. "Today was the result of the hard work. Today was exactly how good all three of those pitches can be."
"He was outstanding," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We were looking for him to build on his progress in Spring Training, and he did exactly what we needed him to do. He was outstanding. He used his changeup, moved the ball in and out and had a good breaking ball. He still didn't have [total] command of his fastball. He's usually able to do that up. But he'll start dotting it up before it's all over."
Ogando, locked into a pitching duel with Astros starter Philip Humber, survived a couple key moments early in the game. The Astros' best threat against him came in the first when Jose Altuve led off with a double and then went to third as Brett Wallace grounded out to the right side. But Ogando struck out Carlos Pena and Chris Carter to end the inning.
In the third, the Astros had a runner at second and two outs when Ogando walked Wallace. Ogando then fell behind 2-0 to Pena and got a visit from Washington.
"He told me to have no fear, just throw my pitches in the strike zone," Ogando said. "I was able to be aggressive after that."
Pena ended up grounding out to end the inning, the first of nine batters in a row retired after the visit from Washington.
"I'm not miracle worker, but when I've got something to say, I'll go out and say it," Washington said. "Otherwise I'll leave it to the pitching coach."
The Rangers, scoreless through five, finally broke through in the sixth against Humber. Lance Berkman led off with a walk and singles by Adrian Beltre and David Murphy loaded the bases. Nelson Cruz followed with a broken-bat grounder up the middle that Altuve turned into a double play, allowing Berkman to come home with the first run of the game.
That was all the Rangers needed although they added three more against reliever Rhiner Cruz in the eighth inning.
Ogando, leading 1-0, was done after allowing an infield single to Justin Maxwell in the seventh. But the combination of Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Michael Kirkman and Nathan retired eight of nine hitters to give the Rangers back-to-back shutouts. Kirkman and Nathan combined to strike out the last five Astros hitters. The Astros are the first team to ever suffer back-to-back shutouts while striking out at least 15 times.
"I think yesterday was more about their guy and today was more about our guys," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Our guys expanded the zone way too often today and it's something we need to make an adjustment, do a better job of. Even the fastballs we had an opportunity to hit in the count, we either fouled them off or didn't put them in play hard."
Ogando might have had at least something to do with that.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.