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Giants-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

After failing to make it past three innings in back-to-back starts, San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong appears to have regained his composure.

The Giants certainly hope this is the case after relying heavily on the bullpen in their last game.

Vogelsong looks to help the NL West leaders sweep a three-game series from the lowly Astros on Thursday night in Houston.

San Francisco (73-57) remained 3 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles with Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Astros, but it wasn't easy. The Giants scored four times in the first inning - highlighted by Hunter Pence's three-run homer - but Barry Zito struggled to keep the lead.

Zito was done after yielding three runs in a season-low 2 1-3 innings, and six relievers helped San Francisco hold on for its seventh victory in nine games.

"The bullpen really picked us up,'' manager Bruce Bochy said.

Vogelsong (11-7, 2.90 ERA) will now try to give the relief corps a break.

The right-hander gave up three solo homers and a single over 6 1-3 innings in Friday's 5-3 win over Atlanta, and credits a change in his mechanics following a couple of subpar showings that dropped him out of the NL ERA lead. Prior to facing the Braves, Vogelsong was shelled for eight runs in 2 2-3 innings against Washington on Aug. 13 and pitched three shaky innings in a 7-1 defeat in San Diego on Aug. 19.

"I felt like I was swinging off the ball a little bit the last few games, and I was showing the ball maybe too early," he told the Giants' official website. "I just really tried to work on getting some better direction to the plate and hide the ball a little bit longer."

He was encouraged by his progress despite having trouble keeping the ball in the park after surrendering one home run in his previous six games.

The Astros (40-90) aren't as big of a threat to go deep, having hit two homers in their last six games. Houston, owner of baseball's worst record, has also lost four straight and 11 of 12.

The Giants have won seven of eight meetings this year, and haven't had more victories against the Astros since 2000, when they went 8-1.

Pence has been a nightmare for the Astros since they traded him last July, batting .370 with four homers in seven games against his former team with Philadelphia and San Francisco. One of those home runs came off Jordan Lyles (3-10, 5.47), who gets the ball Thursday.

Lyles gave up a run and three hits in six innings of Friday's 3-1 victory over the New York Mets, his first since beating San Diego on June 26. The 21-year-old righty was 0-6 with a 6.79 ERA in his nine starts in between, with Houston losing each one.

"Hopefully this is the right step moving forward," he told the Astros' official website, "and hopefully I can build on it and finish strong this year."

Although Lyles is 5-17 in 34 career starts and has never won two in a row, he did defeat the Giants in his lone outing in this series. He gave up two unearned runs in five innings of a 7-5 victory last Aug. 20.

Vogelsong, who is making his first appearance in the season series, had a 3.14 ERA in losing both of his starts to Houston last year.

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