- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Just five batters into his start, Garrett Richards had given up three runs on three hits, two walks, a wild pitch and a comical pickoff throw that ended up somewhere down the left-field line.

Although the right-hander’s night got much better from there, Dallas Keuchel made sure Richards couldn’t avoid his first loss of the season.

Keuchel pitched 8 2-3 innings of dominant five-hit ball, and the Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-2 Monday for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Richards (4-1) yielded a season-high 10 hits and five runs over seven innings, leaving him with just two wins in his last seven starts despite his impressive record. He might have earned a better result if he had avoided all that early trouble and a 5-0 deficit after three innings, but he took consolation in his escape.

“Finding a way to throw seven innings after going through all that in the first three isn’t an easy thing to do,” Richards said. “I put up some zeros and kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance to score runs. I think that’s part of my maturity and my progression as a starting pitcher.”

Richards’ teammates barely avoided being shut out by Keuchel (5-2), who followed up his first career shutout by striking out eight with just one walk. He didn’t allow a runner past second base until the ninth, when manager Bo Porter reluctantly pulled him after two-out singles by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

“I think anybody would want to finish that game, but at the end of the day, we got the win,” Keuchel said. “We’re playing fun. It’s fun right now. A lot of people are seeing what we’re capable of doing.”

Keuchel baffled the Angels, whose only hits in the first seven innings were back-to-back singles by Pujols and Kendrick in the fourth.

Porter left Keuchel in after Trout barely beat out a grounder in the ninth, but the manager returned to pull him after Pujols’ hard grounder glanced off Matt Dominguez’s glove at third on Keuchel’s 128th pitch.

Howie Kendrick followed with a two-run triple off Josh Zeid, who got C.J. Cron on a grounder to end the Angels’ third loss in 11 games.

“I don’t think you’re ever disappointed when you win,” Porter said. “Dallas threw the ball tremendous, and we gave him every opportunity to get the complete-game shutout. It didn’t happen, but it doesn’t diminish what he did.”

Houston’s bats also are improving just in time for a three-game series at Angel Stadium, where the Astros have won seven of their last eight. The Astros have at least nine hits in nine straight games for the first time since June 2007.

Jose Altuve extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a leadoff double in the first. He advanced to third on Richards’ major league-leading 10th wild pitch and then scored when Richards comically lobbed a pickoff attempt over third base.

Castro and Dominguez followed with run-scoring singles. Fowler drove in another run with a two-out single in the second, but cost the Astros a second run when he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double while George Springer ran home from first.

“He made some adjustments as the game went on, bringing his two-seamer in and making some pitches to get some double-play balls, which was good to see,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Richards. “But the damage was obviously done, and we didn’t pressure them enough offensively to get back in it.”

Jason Castro and Dominguez had RBIs during a three-run first inning for the Astros in the opener of a 10-game road trip. Dexter Fowler and Chris Carter also drove in runs for the Astros (17-28), who still have the AL’s worst record despite six wins in their last eight games.

NOTES: Fowler drew a walk in his career-best ninth consecutive game, the first Houston player to accomplish that feat since Morgan Ensberg in 2006. … Angels LHP Hector Santiago, who lost his job in the rotation and hadn’t pitched in eight days, retired all six batters he faced in relief. … Angels opening-day starters Kole Calhoun and David Freese both had extra-base hits during rehab assignments with Triple-A Salt Lake.

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