Rays-Astros Preview

Something about Minute Maid Park brings out the best in Dallas Keuchel, making a Houston Astros victory with him toeing the rubber at home as close to a sure thing as there is in baseball.

That luxury sure would come in handy in October.

The AL West-leading Astros seek their fifth victory in seven tries as they send Keuchel to the hill against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night.

Keuchel (14-6, 2.36 ERA) entered Friday’s home outing against Oakland having given up 10 runs and 22 hits in 20 1-3 innings over his previous three starts – two on the road – that pushed his ERA to a season-high 2.40.

He bounced back to beat the A’s 5-1, striking out eight in seven innings.

"I’ve been working on a breaking pitch backdoor," Keuchel said. "That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple outings with some walks and some hard-luck hits. I just wanted to attack the zone (Friday)."

The left-hander improved to 11-0 with a 1.26 ERA in 13 home starts, including victories in each of his last six. The only pitcher to finish with at least 11 wins, no losses and an ERA better than Keuchel’s current mark at home since 1914 is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser, who went 11-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 17 starts and two relief appearances at Chavez Ravine in 1985.

Keuchel has won 12 straight decisions at home, one short of tying Danny Darwin’s franchise record that spanned 1989 and ’90. Only Roger Clemens (2.55) and Roy Oswalt (2.92) have better ERAs than Keuchel’s 3.04 among pitchers with at least 10 starts at Minute Maid Park.

Keuchel didn’t get any support in St. Petersburg on July 11, when a three-run second inning was enough to put him on the hook for a 3-0 loss. He’s 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in four career starts against the Rays, the last three coming on the road.

Houston’s 41 home wins are second in the AL to Kansas City’s 42 after Marwin Gonzalez homered leading off the 10th to give the Astros (65-55) a 3-2 win over the Rays (59-60) on Tuesday.

Gonzalez and Jose Altuve had three hits apiece, and Altuve scored the tying run in the eighth on Carlos Correa’s double. The Astros have won four of six following a 1-7 stretch and hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels atop the West.

Gonzalez made his first start in left field after starting at four other positions this season, and his second multihit game in three days earned him a promise from his manager.

”I’m not sure what position, but he’ll get to play (Wednesday),” A.J. Hinch said. "I think he’s earned it.”

Tampa Bay has dropped four of five, a disappointing stretch that’s hurting its pursuit of the second wild card. Curt Casali hit a solo homer for the Rays, who were set down in order over the final three innings after winning the opener of this four-game series 9-2.

”I think it’s just a rough patch we’re hitting right now,” Brad Boxberger said after allowing Gonzalez’s homer. ”It’s part of it. Everyone goes through it. It’s just a matter of how quick you can turn it around.”

Tampa looks to get back on track behind Nathan Karns (7-5, 3.53), who is coming off back-to-back rough outings.

Karns had a 1.65 ERA over his previous three starts before giving up four runs in a 5-4 win over the New York Mets on Aug. 8. He then walked a season-high five in 4 2-3 innings to match his shortest outing of the season in Friday’s 5-3 loss at Texas.

The right-hander will be making his first career start against the Astros.