Diamondbacks host Astros in 2nd leg of champions tour

PHOENIX — Part 2 of the Chase Field World Series tour will commence Friday, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are excited for the challenge.

After splitting a four-game series against the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona will play host to World Series champion Houston in a three-game series this weekend.

It is the first time in major league history that one team has played host to league champions in successive series.

“I think what our mindset here is that we love challenges. We accept challenges,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “We have the L.A. Dodgers within our division and right behind them we have the World Series champs. What better situation could you walk into to evaluate yourself individually and then collectively. This is how we are stacking up. I know the Dodgers are banged up and they are not playing well, but they’re the Dodgers. We love that competitive spirit that we both have.

“Then you have the Astros who are playing very well. It will be a good gauge for us, and I think that is something this entire group embraces. They like to have these types of challenges put before them.”

Both teams are off to strong starts. Arizona (21-10) has the best record in the NL and won its first nine series before a 5-2 loss to the Dodgers on Thursday to split a four-game set. The Diamondbacks lost the final two games of the series, the first time this season they dropped back-to-back games.

Houston (20-13) lost the final three games of a four-game home series against the New York Yankees. They went through a 22-inning scoring drought while being shut out in the middle two games before failing to hold a two-run lead in a 6-5 loss Thursday. They remain one of three 20-game winners in the American League.

Will Harris was unable to hold a 5-3 lead Thursday, the second time the bullpen struggled this week. Justin Verlander threw eight scoreless innings before closer Ken Giles gave up four runs in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss Tuesday. Giles was caught punching himself in the face after being removed from that game.

“Winnable game, obviously frustrating because we were behind for so long in this entire series and we (still) could have split,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch told reporters Thursday. “Split’s not necessarily something to celebrate, but we should have won today. I thought Harris could get those guys out due to matchups.”

Right-hander Kris Medlen will make his first start for Arizona on Friday, taking the place of Robbie Ray in the rotation after Ray suffered an oblique sprain during his outing in Washington on Sunday.

Offseason addition Gerrit Cole will start for the Astros.

Cole is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts in his first season in the American League, with 61 strikeouts and eight walks in 41 2/3 innings. Cole has six quality starts, tied for first in the National League, and is seventh in ERA, sixth in WHIP (0.79) and third in strikeouts (61).

All of his outings have been quality starts, and he has four double-digit strikeout games, including a season-high 14 in a no-decision against Texas on April 13 and 12 against Oakland in a no-decision in his most recent outing Sunday.

Cole is 2-2 with a 2.51 ERA in five career starts against the Diamondbacks, having allowed two runs in a seven innings of a 2-1 loss to Zack Greinke at Chase Field on May 11. He is 1-1 in two starts at Chase Field, giving up three runs in 14 2/3 innings.

Medlen was 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA in six starts with Kansas City in 2016 before he was sidelined with rotator cuff tendinitis. A great comeback story, he has persevered after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries, the most recent in 2014.

He made 20 starts in Atlanta’s minor league system last year and was 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in four starts at high-altitude Triple-A Reno after signing with Arizona over the winter. Medlen has not pitched since April 25.

“We felt like he was the right guy,” Lovullo said. “We know that he has a history of being able to execute. He’s pitched in the big leagues for a while, and he’s going to have a good mentality to out there and execute that game plan. Just get him to go as far as he can for as long as he can.

“Obviously, the team coming in tomorrow is a pretty good team.”