- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - Garrett Richards followed the worst start of his career with one of his best. He also a truly special inning, striking out the side on just nine pitches.

Richards fanned nine to match his major league best, helping the Los Angeles Angels snap a season-worst four-game skid with a 4-0 win over Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

Richards (5-2) bounced back from a terrible outing in his last start when he allowed five runs while getting only two outs. It was the shortest non-injury-related start of his career.

“I definitely came into this game with a little chip on my shoulder,” Richards said. “Last one was embarrassing. And that’s not the pitcher I am.”

In the second, he joined Nolan Ryan as the only Angels pitchers to strike out the side on nine pitches. Ryan did it in 1972.

“That was my guy growing up,” Richards said. “It’s cool. It’s cool to be put in a group with a guy like that. I didn’t even realize it until after the game.”

Richards gave up four hits and walked none in eight innings. Of his first 35 pitches, 32 were strikes.

Joe Smith struck out one in a hitless ninth.

Erick Aybar had two doubles and an RBI and David Freese doubled and drove in a run for the Angels.

Jarred Cosart (4-5) allowed eight hits and three runs and tied a career-high with eight strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings.

Dexter Fowler had two hits for the Astros, but no one else could get anything going against Richards. Heralded prospect Jon Singleton went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his second major league game after homering in his debut on Tuesday night.

Fowler’s ground-rule double led things off for the Astros, but Richards retired the next eight batters.

Fowler singled with two outs in the third but Jose Altuve grounded into a force out to end the inning.

Richard located his pitches well all night, but his control was impeccable early in the game.

“Garrett was ready,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “I don’t know if it was based on the last outing which was obviously tough for him. He just showed great command with all his pitches.”

Houston manager Bo Porter was impressed.

“(He) had electric stuff tonight from the very first pitch until he left the game in the eighth,” he said. “He was throwing 95, 96 late in the game with a wipeout slider. That is what you call dominating stuff.”

Freese doubled with one out in the fifth and C.J. Cron put the Angels on top 1-0 with his RBI single with two outs.

Aybar hit a one-out double in the sixth before Albert Pujols drew a walk. Howie Kendrick and Freese hit back to back singles with two outs to stretch the lead to 3-0.

The Angels didn’t get a hit until Albert Pujols singled with two outs in the fourth inning, but Cosart struck out Josh Hamilton for the third out.

Hamilton played center field on Wednesday night in his second game back from the disabled list with star Mike Trout out again with back problems.

Collin Cowgill entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth and took over in center field and Hamilton moved to left. Cowgill preserved the shutout by sprinting to make a catch on the track just before Tal’s Hill in center field on a fly ball hit by George Springer for the last out in the eighth.

Trout had an MRI on Wednesday and said it didn’t reveal any damage. He has some inflammation in the middle of his back on the left side and hopes to return to the lineup on Thursday.

Trout missed two games with stiffness in his upper back before starting Tuesday night in Houston. He left that game in the second inning because of his back problem.

He said that he feels a lot better on Wednesday than he did when he left the game on Tuesday night.

“If I don’t feel it at all, I’m going to play,” he said. “If I feel it a little bit, I should just be smart about it.”

NOTES: The series wraps up on Thursday when Los Angeles LHP Tyler Skaggs opposes Brad Peacock. … Houston SS Jonathan Villar was out of the lineup on Wednesday after being hit on the right elbow by a pitch the night before. X-rays were negative and he is day to day.

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