Texas Rangers

One step up, two steps back for Jose Leclerc in series-opening loss to Astros

Jose Leclerc was working his way back towards reclaiming the Texas Rangers’ closer role but he hit a bump on Thursday night in Houston.

He was demoted from the role on April 30 after a blown save but had been steady in two relief appearances since, including two scoreless innings on Tuesday against the Pirates.

In the opener of a four-game set against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, Leclerc was in a self-made mess and it cost him.

He walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth and had the bases loaded with one out after a single and another walk before walking pinch-hitter Michael Brantley, who pushed ahead an insurance run for the Astros who won 4-2.

Hunter Pence almost made the extra run moot in the ninth. Pence ripped Roberto Osuna’s pitch to the opposite field but right fielder Josh Reddick scaled the wall and robbed Pence of a go-ahead, three-run homer. It would have been Pence’s seventh homer and second homer of the game.

Instead, Osuna struck out Joey Gallo to preserve the win.

Leclerc entered the eighth trailing by a run after starter Mike Minor was charged with three runs on seven hits and three walks over five innings. He left after the first two Astros reached on singles in the sixth.

Ariel Jurado forced Robinson Chirinos into a 6-4-3 double play but Reddick’s single to center pushed across Yuli Gurriel with the go-ahead run to give the Astros 3-2 lead. Jurado allowed one hit in two scoreless innings.

Pence, who played most of the first five years of his major league career with the Astros before being traded to the Phillies during the 2011 season, gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with an opposite-field, two-run homer in the fourth.

The Astros had taken 1-0 lead on George Springer’s homer into the left-field Crawford Boxes in the third.

Alex Bregman’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly to deep center tied it at 2-2 in the fifth but Minor struck out Carlos Correa to end the inning.

Heavy rains in the Houston area, which were causing downtown streets to flood Thursday night, leaked in through the roof at Minute Maid Park during the eighth inning as some fans took cover under umbrellas.

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Stefan Stevenson has been covering sports for the Star-Telegram since 1997. He spent five years covering TCU athletics, which included two BCS bowls, two trips to the college World Series and the move to the Big 12. He has covered the Texas Rangers since 2014 and started reporting on the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.