Mariners-Astros Preview


After one of the worst performances in his career his last time out, Bud Norris will try to bounce back as he takes the mound to open the Houston Astros' second half of the season.

But picking himself up could prove challenging against the Seattle Mariners, who entered the All-Star break riding baseball's strongest power surge.

Norris and the Astros try to slow down Raul Ibanez and the Mariners at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.

Norris (6-8, 3.63) surrendered a career-high 11 hits and matched a season worst by allowing seven runs over five innings in a 9-5 loss at St. Louis on July 9. The right-hander had posted a 2.29 ERA in his previous nine outings, though he lost 4-0 at Seattle on June 11.

To make matters worse, Norris also twisted his ankle after a pitch in the second inning against the Cardinals, though the injury wasn't serious.

"It's pretty sore, I tried to battle through it," said Norris, whose ERA leads Houston starters. "I definitely tweaked it."

While Norris gave up a two-run homer to Matt Holliday, he's limited opponents to 0.6 homers per nine innings - the second fewest among AL starters.

Norris will have to be mindful of the long ball against the Mariners (43-52), whose 37 homers and .481 slugging percentage since June 20 are the best in the majors.

Ibanez has fueled the hot stretch, hitting 10 homers with 22 RBIs in 21 games during that span with an OPS of 1.172. His 24 home runs are tied for fourth in the AL and leave him five shy of Ted Williams' 1960 record for the most in a season at the age of 41.

"He's the same guy every day, on and off the field," manager Eric Wedge said of Ibanez, whose power has helped the Mariners to 115 homers, tied for baseball's second most after their 149 were the league's fourth fewest in 2012. "He prepares as well as anybody, if not more so than that."

Ibanez is 5 for 17 with a homer and two doubles off Norris, who also beat Seattle 3-2 at home on April 23.

Mariners starter Joe Saunders (8-8, 4.24) comes in trying to win his fourth straight start. He was the winning pitcher in Seattle's 3-0 home victory over the Astros on April 8, but a 10-3 loss in Houston was consistent with his road struggles earlier in the season.

The left-hander went 0-4 with an 11.25 ERA in his first five road starts, but has since gone 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA in five starts away from Safeco Field.

He shut out the Los Angeles Angels for seven innings while yielding five hits in an 8-3 victory at home last Friday.

J.D. Martinez, batting .256, went 10 for 28 (.357) in his last seven games prior to the All-Star break. He's 1 for 5 off Saunders.

The Astros (33-61) have lost six of their last seven at home but took two of the teams' first three meetings at Minute Maid Park and own a 5-4 advantage in the season series.

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