Red Sox-Astros Preview

BY foxsports • April 23, 2016

After showing signs of a turnaround in his last start, Clay Buchholz has a lot working in his favor in his next one.

Buchholz owns stellar career numbers against the Houston Astros, who enter Saturday's matchup with the Boston Red Sox having lost four straight and in an extended offensive rut.

A lack of clutch hitting has been an ongoing problem during Houston's disappointing 5-12 start, during which it's batting .171 with runners in scoring position. It was an issue again in Friday's opener of this three-game series, when the Astros finished 1 of 8 in a 6-2 defeat for their eighth loss in 10 games.

Houston was 4 for 30 in those situations in being swept in a three-game set at Texas prior to this series.

After being held to four hits and one unearned run through 6 1/3 innings by Steven Wright, the Astros draw Buchholz (0-1, 5.74 ERA) off by far the best of his three 2016 outings. The native Texan yielded six singles over 6 2/3 scoreless innings Monday against Toronto, though he was denied a win when the bullpen allowed four eighth-inning runs in Boston's 4-3 loss.

Buchholz surrendered 10 runs and walked six in nine innings over his previous two starts.

He's been magnificent in four prior matchups with the Astros, going 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA and throwing two complete games. One came at Fenway Park last July, a six-hit, eight-strikeout effort in a 6-1 victory.

Buchholz was even better in his lone Minute Maid Park start, striking out a career-high 12 in a three-hit shutout on July 13, 2014.

While Houston's offense remains slumping, the Red Sox are hitting .372 with 21 runs scored over a three-game stretch. They recorded 15 hits for a second straight game Friday, with Mookie Betts going 4 for 5 with two triples and three runs scored.

Boston (8-8) has produced 10 first-inning runs over its last three games and has outscored opponents 18-4 in the opening frame in its last 11. The Red Sox got two off Collin McHugh, with Betts' leadoff triple igniting the charge.

''I just come out swinging and try to make him uncomfortable at least,'' said Betts, who's 8 for 14 with two homers and five RBIs over the last three games. ''We were able to put some good swings on some pitches and make him uncomfortable through those innings.''

The Astros are 1-7 when allowing the first run.

''We have to stop putting ourselves in a hole to get ourselves out of it,'' manager A.J. Hinch said. ''We've gotten punched in the face a bit over these first couple of weeks, but we will respond.''

Mike Fiers (1-1, 6.48) has permitted three first-inning runs through three starts. He's also surrendered six homers in 16 2/3 innings, including three in 5 2/3 innings in Sunday's 5-4 home win over Detroit.

Fiers is 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA in six home starts since being acquired from Milwaukee last July.

He'll face a Boston lineup with several players who have hit Houston pitching well. Dustin Pedroia owns a .418 average in the series, the highest for an opponent in Astros history with at least 100 plate appearances. Hanley Ramirez is batting .368 against Houston and Betts is 14 for 30.

Pedroia and Ramirez each had two hits and an RBI on Friday.