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Another long night - and loss - for Rangers, who fall 8-3 to Astros and closer to last place

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ARLINGTON, Texas - Another long night for the Texas Rangers and their bullpen. And another loss closer to last place in the AL West.

Phil Irwin gave up two quick runs in his Texas debut, and got through only one batter in the fifth inning as the Rangers lost 8-3 to Houston Astros on Tuesday night. Texas has lost nine of its last 10 games — and 17 of 20.

"I think if we get the starting pitching to get us later in games, the bullpen will be more effective," manager Ron Washington said. "If we straighten that out ... get deeper in games, less work for the bullpen, everything else will work out."

A night after Miles Mikolas fell behind 6-0 and didn't make it out of the fourth inning, the Rangers were in their bullpen early again against the Astros. The relievers allowed multiple runs for the sixth time in seven games.

All-Star right-hander Yu Darvish is expected to start as scheduled Wednesday night after a scare before Tuesday's game. The Japanese ace was struck on the top of the head by a ball when throwing in the outfield while the Rangers took batting practice.

Darvish checked out OK when he was examined by team physician Dr. Keith Meister after finishing his throwing session. The Rangers said Darvish (8-4) would be re-evaluated before Wednesday's game as a precaution, but he indicated in responding on Twitter to an article about the incident that he was "strong" and feeling good.

Chris Carter led off two innings with home runs for the Astros, and rookie George Springer had one inning-starting long ball. Brad Peacock (3-5) struck out five while allowing two runs and six hits over 5 2-3 innings.

The Astros go for a three-game series sweep Wednesday after winning only twice in 19 games against Texas all last season. They have won four straight overall against their instate rival for the first time since 2002.

"It's just nice to beat them this year," Carter said. "They beat up on us pretty bad last year."

Except for 21 days, and none past mid-April in either of their two seasons since switching leagues, the Astros have been at the bottom of the five-team AL West. They are now within a game of fourth-place Texas after 20 runs and 29 hits so far in this series.

Carter started the sixth with a 409-foot blast into the seats in left field to make it 4-2. Two innings later, his 17th homer of the season was almost as long — but just cleared the wall and the outstretched glove of centre fielder Leonys Martin for a 6-3 lead.

Martin led off the Texas second with his fifth homer before adding a sacrifice fly and a triple. Jake Smolinski had an RBI double in the seventh for his first major league hit.

Jose Altuve had two hits, two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly. The All-Star second baseman matched Houston's franchise record with 28 consecutive stolen bases without being caught while pushing his AL-leading total to 41. He leads the American League with 126 hits and a .341 batting average.

Irwin (0-1) was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock earlier Tuesday when right-hander Nick Martinez (left side discomfort) was put on the 15-day disabled list. The Astros loaded the bases with no outs before Altuve was picked off third base by catcher Chris Gimenez right before consecutive RBI singles by Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez.

"It just came down to the first inning ... overthrowing out of the gate," Irwin said. "Just trying to throw it hard, blow it past people. That's not my game."

NOTES: Irwin became the 1,000th player in the history of the Washington Senators-Texas Rangers franchise (1961-2014). He was also the 47th player used by the Rangers this season, one more than they used all last year. RHP Roman Martinez made it 1,001 and 48 with two scoreless innings in his major league debut.

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