HOUSTON -- Although his major-league-leading strikeout total is glaring, Astros left fielder Chris Carter continues to make such incremental process that it yields anticipation over his potential as a feared slugger.
Carter bashed a pair of home runs in support of another strong home start from right-hander Bud Norris as Houston snapped a five-game losing skid with a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Carter accounted for all four of the Astros' RBIs and matched third baseman Matt Dominguez for the club lead with 44 RBIs. Carter has amassed 115 strikeouts, which accounts for 36.6 percent of his at-bats. But he recently compiled a 14-game streak of safely reaching base, indicative of his development as a hitter and improving plate discipline.
"You look at the strikeout total, and yes it's there," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "But you look at the power numbers, the RBIs, and you just look over the last two and a half, three weeks, just the quality of the at-bats overall. He has a chance to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100.
"When you see that kind of progression and you see the adjustments being made, you really say to yourself moving forward that this guy has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order bat who can be very productive."
Norris (6-7) notched his sixth quality start at home before right-handers Jose Cisnero and Jose Veras combined to retire the Rays in the eighth and ninth. Veras earned his 17th save for Houston (31-54), which ended a 22-inning scoreless streak when Carter clubbed his first home run in the second. The Rays (45-40) had their four-game win streak snapped.
As they did in the first two games of this series, the Rays were quick to apply pressure offensively, with center fielder Desmond Jennings working his way into scoring position via a single and a stolen base before Matt Joyce advanced him to third base with an infield hit. Ben Zobrist capped the run manufacturing with a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Rays a 1-0 lead in the first inning and early momentum.
But Norris did not falter like left-handers Dallas Keuchel and Erik Bedard did earlier this week against the Rays. He worked around a Kelly Johnson one-out walk in the second, a James Loney single in the fourth and double in the sixth, and a two-on, two-out Rays uprising in the fifth.
"He threw strikes," Zobrist said of Norris. "He has good stuff. We didn't get the big hit when we needed it. I got some pitches to hit. The other guys got good pitches to hit. We just didn't capitalize on those."
Norris induced an inning-ending double play from Jennings in the seventh. He allowed one run on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts, lowering his ERA at Minute Maid Park this season to 2.27.
And after enduring five no decisions in starts in which he logged at least six innings and surrendered two or less earned runs, the timing of the run support was greatly appreciated.
"Pure joy," Norris said. "Obviously to get in line for the win and to get the win for the team was big. You battle for seven innings to have that and it was really special. CC (Carter) has done it a few times for me, so we've just got to keep it going."
Carter, whose leadoff home run off Roberto Hernandez (4-10) in the second inning erased the Rays' 1-0 lead, greeted right-handed reliever Jake McGee with a three-run homer in the seventh, his 17th. Carter fouled off two 3-2 pitches before turning on a 98 mile-per-hour fastball.
"I was just trying to get the ball in the air with a runner at third and a tie-game situation like that," Carter said. "He just kept throwing fastballs away and I kept fouling them off and then ended up hitting one."
Said Rays manager Joe Maddon: "It's tough spot to be in, but Jake has been in it before. We are looking for a strikeout. Of course Carter has struck out some this year, and Jake has been able to do that. It was a good spot for Jake, but it didn't work out."
NOTES: With his single in the fourth inning, Loney extended his hitting streak to 14 games, one shy of matching his career high of 15 games set March 31-April 16, 2008, with the Los Angeles Dodgers. ... Astros DH Carlos Pena returned to the starting lineup after missing three games following a death in his family. ... The Rays matched their club record for consecutive scoreless innings at 24 before Carter slugged a leadoff home run in the second inning. Tampa Bay last allowed a run in the fourth inning Sunday when Detroit 3B Miguel Cabrera hit a homer.