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Wed, Jul 3, 2013 - 8:10 PM ET
 

Rays-Astros Preview

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The Tampa Bay Rays are rolling thanks to impressive efforts on the mound and at the plate.

Manager Joe Maddon's club has proven especially dominant against the major league-worst Houston Astros.

The visiting Rays aim for a fifth consecutive win Wednesday night and eighth in a row over the Astros, who try to avoid getting shut out in three straight contests for the first time in nearly 28 years.

After Matt Moore combined with Cesar Ramos on a two-hitter in Monday's series-opening 12-0 win, David Price returned from the disabled list to throw seven masterful innings Tuesday in an 8-0 victory. Winner in seven of nine, Tampa Bay (45-39) has taken four straight by a 27-4 margin, going 17 for 46 (.370) with runners in scoring position.

Desmond Jennings went 3 for 5 with a homer and career high-tying four RBIs while Yunel Escobar drove in two for the Rays, who have outscored Houston 60-21 during their seven-game run in the series.

The Astros (30-54) have also been outscored 34-5 during a five-game skid overall. Houston, which is hitting .150 during that stretch, hasn't suffered three consecutive shutouts since July 14-19, 1985.

Leading the club with a .286 average, Jose Altuve is hitless in his last 10 at-bats. Matt Dominguez is mired in an 0-for-18 slump, and Brandon Barnes is 4 for his last 31. Chris Carter has also struggled, going 3 for 21 with 10 strikeouts during a seven-game stretch.

"It's just one of those things where we're just not hitting right now," Dominguez said. "Tomorrow, we could go out and get 15 hits or something. Baseball is crazy that way. We just have to keep grinding and doing what we do."

The Astros will try to regroup against Roberto Hernandez (4-9, 4.98 ERA), who's hoping to avoid losing a season-high fourth consecutive start. The right-hander, though, pitched well last Wednesday in a 3-0 loss to Toronto, allowing three runs and six hits in eight-plus innings.

"I thought Roberto was fantastic," Maddon told MLB's official website. "That probably was his best game all year, one walk, (five) punchouts. The ball was alive, the sinker was very good, the slider."

While Hernandez has never faced Houston, he's limited former Rays slugger Carlos Pena to two hits in 12 at-bats in their matchups. Pena returned to the club after missing two games following the death in the family, but did not play Tuesday.

The Astros give the ball to Bud Norris (5-7, 3.35), who's looking to snap a season-high five-start winless stretch. The right-hander allowed one unearned run and four hits in seven innings but didn't factor in the decision of Friday's 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

"He's got the fastball that's sneaky and works his breaking ball in on you," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Norris, who is 3-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 home starts.

Norris is 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA in two career outings against the Rays, with the last one coming in 2011. James Loney is 7 for 14 against him.

Norris will also need to be wary of Evan Longoria, who went 2 for 4 in his first game back since missing three due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The All-Star third baseman is batting .448 with four homers, four doubles and 13 RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak against the Astros.

Tagged: Astros, Rays, Roberto Hernandez, Bud Norris

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