While Josh Hamilton was given most of Thursday off, the Houston
Astros surely would not object if Ron Washington rested his slugger
for the whole weekend.
Hamilton and the Rangers begin their bid to retain the Silver
Boot for the sixth straight year Friday night when they open their
three-game interleague series versus the Houston Astros.
With Texas (24-15) in the midst of a 20-game, 20-day stretch,
Washington spent most of this week giving his key players a day off
to keep them fresh. Hamilton’s turn came Thursday, though he
appeared as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and eventually went
0 for 2 in the Rangers’ 5-4, 10-inning loss to Oakland.
“I’m not used to days off,” said Michael Young, who sat
Wednesday and served as designated hitter in Hamilton’s traditional
third spot Thursday. “I like to get out there every day. But rest
is always a good thing.”
Hamilton’s 16-game hitting streak – longest in the AL this
season – came to an end and also slightly slowed what had been a
staggering tear for the star center fielder. Even including
Thursday, he is 17 for 37 (.459) with eight homers and 17 RBIs in
his last 10 games and leads the AL in all three Triple Crown
categories with a .399 average, 18 homers and 45 RBIs.
“When we go to play in Houston, I want every single one of them
feeling good,” Washington told MLB.com. “We had a road trip from
hell, and the fatigue factor hit us here.”
Hamilton has been a fatigue factor on both the Astros and the
entire NL in interleague play the last two years. He is hitting
.406 (52 for 128) with 11 homers, eight doubles, two triples and 31
RBIs in his last 31 games against the senior circuit, and .404 (21
for 52) with three homers, two triples and one double and 12 RBIs
versus the Astros in that span while helping the Rangers win nine
of 12 games to keep the Silver Boot.
As Texas has risen to prominence as two-time reigning American
League champions, the Astros (17-21) appear to be holding their own
while rebuilding ahead of joining the Rangers in the AL West for
2013. They swept a two-game series from Milwaukee at home following
a four-game skid, capped with Thursday’s 4-0 victory as J.A. Happ
and three relievers combined on an eight-hitter.
“Any time you get in the same division, that has a tendency to
build on that (rivalry) a little bit more,” Houston manager Brad
Mills said. “You play each other so many times and it’s in your
division, those games have a little bit more on the line.”
Wandy Rodriguez (3-3, 1.99 ERA) will try to follow up Happ’s
strong performance and shut down the Rangers for a second straight
year. The left-hander, who conceded one run in eight innings of a
3-2, 12-inning defeat Sunday at Pittsburgh, scattered four hits and
three walks in seven innings of a 7-0 win June 30, improving to 4-2
in six lifetime starts against Texas.
Rodriguez, though, is 3-5 with a 6.30 ERA in nine outings
against the AL since the start of 2009, and 8-10 with a 5.25 ERA in
22 career interleague starts overall. Hamilton is 1 for 4 against
Neftali Feliz (3-1, 3.32) gets the ball opposite Rodriguez
bidding to win his third straight start. The right-hander was
efficient Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels, allowing two runs
in six innings of a 13-6 victory. As a closer, Feliz was 0-1 with a
6.00 ERA and three saves in four opportunities spanning six
appearances against the Astros.
Astros first baseman Carlos Lee, who briefly played for Texas
before being dealt to Houston in 2006, is batting .245 in 30 games
against the Rangers since that deal.