Astros-Rays Preview

The Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays are capitalizing on a favorable portion of their schedule.

Giving the ball to David Price could help them continue their winning ways.

The left-hander goes for his third consecutive victory - and second over the major league-worst Houston Astros - since returning from the disabled list when the Rays go for their first nine-game winning streak in nine seasons Friday night.

Tampa Bay has won 12 of 13 to move a season-best 13 games over .500. Its last 11 games have come against the AL's three worst teams - Houston (32-59), Chicago and Minnesota.

The Rays (53-40) have a chance for their longest undefeated stretch since a franchise-record 12-game surge June 9-22, 2004. They're averaging 5.2 runs in the last 13 games, with their starters posting a 2.13 ERA.

"It's simple, age-tested formula," manager Joe Maddon said after Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Twins. "We pitched well, we caught it and got some clutch hits. There's a lot of belief within the group."

That confidence is even higher with Price (3-4, 4.18 ERA) winning both of his starts after missing nearly seven weeks with a triceps strain. The reigning AL Cy Young winner needed just 98 pitches to throw a complete game in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the White Sox.

"I felt better five days ago," Price told the Rays' official website, referring to an 8-0 victory at Houston on July 2 when he struck out a season-high 10 in seven innings. "My fastball location was still there. If I can have command of that pitch, I feel like I can be successful at this level."

Standing in the way of the Rays' 10th consecutive home win is an Astros team that's dropped 15 of 21, including three of four at home to Tampa Bay from July 1-4.

Houston continues its eight-game trip with Jarred Cosart slated to make his major league debut. The right-hander - acquired from Philadelphia in the 2011 Hunter Pence deal - was 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA with Triple-A Oklahoma City, and his 93 strikeouts in 93 innings were good for fifth in the PCL.

His 50 walks, though, were second.

"I don't know much about the Rays, but I know (All-Star catcher Jason) Castro is great with scouting reports and (pitching coach Doug Brocail) and those guys will help me do what I need to do," Cosart told MLB's official website.

Cosart can't expect much support with the Astros hitting .209 and averaging 3.4 runs during a 2-10 stretch. Jose Altuve, the team's leading hitter at .284, is batting .213 over those 12 games, while Chris Carter, Brandon Barnes, Matt Dominguez and Castro are hitting a combined .174 with 46 strikeouts.

However, Brett Wallace is batting .417 with two homers and six RBIs over the last six games after setting a career high with four hits in Wednesday's 5-4 loss to St. Louis.

He matched Carter with team highs of two homers and four RBIs against Tampa Bay earlier this month.

"(Wallace is) staying on the ball and hitting with a lot of confidence right now," manager Bo Porter said.

So is Rays designated hitter Luke Scott, who's batting .458 with two homers during a seven-game hitting streak.

Desmond Jennings had eight hits in the series in Houston and drove in a career high-tying four runs July 2 to back up Price, who improved to 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Astros - both in Houston.

The Astros took two of three in their only series visiting the Rays from June 20-22, 2008.

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