Cole, Astros open two-game set vs. Giants

HOUSTON — Despite their perch atop the American League West, the Astros remain in search of consistent production from a few spots in their lineup, with left field representing a concern.

With Jake Marisnick optioned to Triple-A Fresno and Derek Fisher landing on the 10-day disabled list with gastrointestinal discomfort, opportunity has again knocked for Tony Kemp. A fifth-round pick by the Astros in 2013, Kemp has found himself wedged between the majors and Fresno, excelling at the latter level while lacking the chance to stick with the Astros. He had compiled 175 plate appearances over 76 games and two seasons before his recall last week, and with some competitive at-bats and defensive handiwork, Kemp is raising eyebrows again.

“This is not new; he just hasn’t done it at this level because we haven’t given him the opportunities,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I applaud him for his patience, it’s been a tough road for him overperforming Triple-A and not getting an opportunity here.

“He sees some at-bats that are open for him, he’s coming up putting up really good at-bats. You contribute like that on defense and all of a sudden you see yourself in a more regular lineup. Really good first impression of this season even though we’ve come to except some athleticism and good at-bats from him.”

Right-hander Gerrit Cole (4-1, 1.75 ERA) will start for the Astros (30-18) when they open a two-game interleague series against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. Cole leads the AL in strikeouts (93) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.6). He is coming off his worst outing of the season, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over a season-low five innings against the Los Angeles Angels, a game Houston won 5-3.

Cole is 4-1 with a 3.18 ERA over six career starts against the Giants. He faced San Francisco twice last season, allowing a season-high-tying seven runs on 10 hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings in a 13-5 loss on June 30 before twirling six innings on July 24 in a 10-3 victory at AT&T Park. Cole surrendered two runs on six hits and four walks with four strikeouts in that outing.

Giants rookie left-hander Andrew Suarez (1-3, 4.88 ERA) will start on Tuesday. Suarez, making his first career interleague start, has allowed nine earned runs over his last 10 innings and two starts, suffering consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the process.

The streaky Giants (24-24) have won five of eight following a six-game losing streak that came on the heels of being a season-high four games over .500. Their offense helped salvage a split of their four-game series with the Colorado Rockies over the weekend, with first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford leading the way to 18 runs in consecutive wins.

Belt clubbed his fifth home run in seven games in a 9-5 victory on Sunday and has a slash line of .324/.412/.608 with five homers and 15 RBIs over 19 games this month. He leads the Giants in home runs (11) and bWAR (2.3) this season. Crawford has rebounded from an awful opening month with a .444/.462/.639 slash line this month plus 16 RBIs in 19 games. Crawford entered May with just three RBIs over the first 27 games, and more strikeouts (28) than total bases (27).