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Rangers-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

While Josh Hamilton was given most of Thursday off, the Houston Astros surely would not object if Ron Washington rested his slugger for the whole weekend.

Hamilton and the Rangers begin their bid to retain the Silver Boot for the sixth straight year Friday night when they open their three-game interleague series versus the Houston Astros.

With Texas (24-15) in the midst of a 20-game, 20-day stretch, Washington spent most of this week giving his key players a day off to keep them fresh. Hamilton's turn came Thursday, though he appeared as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and eventually went 0 for 2 in the Rangers' 5-4, 10-inning loss to Oakland.

"I'm not used to days off,'' said Michael Young, who sat Wednesday and served as designated hitter in Hamilton's traditional third spot Thursday. "I like to get out there every day. But rest is always a good thing.''

Hamilton's 16-game hitting streak - longest in the AL this season - came to an end and also slightly slowed what had been a staggering tear for the star center fielder. Even including Thursday, he is 17 for 37 (.459) with eight homers and 17 RBIs in his last 10 games and leads the AL in all three Triple Crown categories with a .399 average, 18 homers and 45 RBIs.

"When we go to play in Houston, I want every single one of them feeling good," Washington told MLB.com. "We had a road trip from hell, and the fatigue factor hit us here."

Hamilton has been a fatigue factor on both the Astros and the entire NL in interleague play the last two years. He is hitting .406 (52 for 128) with 11 homers, eight doubles, two triples and 31 RBIs in his last 31 games against the senior circuit, and .404 (21 for 52) with three homers, two triples and one double and 12 RBIs versus the Astros in that span while helping the Rangers win nine of 12 games to keep the Silver Boot.

As Texas has risen to prominence as two-time reigning American League champions, the Astros (17-21) appear to be holding their own while rebuilding ahead of joining the Rangers in the AL West for 2013. They swept a two-game series from Milwaukee at home following a four-game skid, capped with Thursday's 4-0 victory as J.A. Happ and three relievers combined on an eight-hitter.

"Any time you get in the same division, that has a tendency to build on that (rivalry) a little bit more," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "You play each other so many times and it's in your division, those games have a little bit more on the line."

Wandy Rodriguez (3-3, 1.99 ERA) will try to follow up Happ's strong performance and shut down the Rangers for a second straight year. The left-hander, who conceded one run in eight innings of a 3-2, 12-inning defeat Sunday at Pittsburgh, scattered four hits and three walks in seven innings of a 7-0 win June 30, improving to 4-2 in six lifetime starts against Texas.

Rodriguez, though, is 3-5 with a 6.30 ERA in nine outings against the AL since the start of 2009, and 8-10 with a 5.25 ERA in 22 career interleague starts overall. Hamilton is 1 for 4 against him.

Neftali Feliz (3-1, 3.32) gets the ball opposite Rodriguez bidding to win his third straight start. The right-hander was efficient Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels, allowing two runs in six innings of a 13-6 victory. As a closer, Feliz was 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA and three saves in four opportunities spanning six appearances against the Astros.

Astros first baseman Carlos Lee, who briefly played for Texas before being dealt to Houston in 2006, is batting .245 in 30 games against the Rangers since that deal.

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