Astros Hope Happ Can Salvage A Win In Series With Rays

(Sports Network) - The Rays have put together a nice run of late thanks to their rotation. Houston native Jeff Niemann hopes to get in on the success this afternoon when Tampa Bay aims to sweep a series against the Astros.

The Rays are 7-1 over their last eight games, due in part to some incredible starting pitching. In those eight contests, their starters have pitched to a 1.41 ERA (9 earned runs, 57 1/3 innings). Rays pitchers have gone 11 straight games without allowing 10-plus hits. That's three contests off the club record, set during the 2008 season.

On Friday night James Shields pitched his sixth complete game of the year. Last night it was Wade Davis who held the Astros in check through seven innings in a 7-2 triumph. That gave Tampa Bay its ninth victory in its last 12 road games.

B.J. Upton, Casey Kotchman and Evan Longoria each drove in two runs last night. Davis (7-5), making the 50th start of his career, gave up one run on five hits over seven innings for the Rays, who have won three in a row and seven of eight overall. Davis also struck out three and walked one en route to winning his third straight start.

"I think I stayed under control better than I have all year throughout the whole game," Davis said.

Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee had an RBI apiece for the Astros, who lost 5-1 in the opener of this series on Friday. The Astros have dropped a season-high five in a row and 13 of 15 at home.

Bud Norris (4-6) allowed three runs on six hits over five full frames to suffer the loss. He also struck out five and walked three.

"He kept working to find his stuff, and his command kind of got him in trouble there with those walks," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He kept battling through it. It was -- what? -- 95 pitches though five innings, and he wanted to go back out there, but it was a situation [in which] we were down and trying to get some baserunners as well."

Niemann came off the disabled list on Monday and started that night at Milwaukee in the first game of this road trip. He earned an 8-4 win over Chris Narveson, but left after six innings with a 5-0 lead. Prior to that, Niemann was out six weeks with a lower back strain.

This will be Niemann's second career start against the Astros. He won here last year on May 22, 4-2 over Wandy Rodriguez. He's made six career starts in NL parks and the Rays have won all of those games.

Countering on the hill for Houston will be J.A. Happ, who is 0-5 over his last seven starts. The lefty hasn't won since May 14 against the Mets, and he's coming off a horrid road outing against the Rangers on Monday when he allowed eight hits and five earned runs over 2 2/3 innings. This will be his first career appearance against Tampa Bay.

Rays pitchers are 0-for-19 at the plate this season. The most at-bats without a hit in one interleague season by an AL pitching staff is an 0-for-25 by the 2008 Red Sox pitchers.

The Rays, winners in eight of their last nine interleague games, won two of three over the Astros in Houston last season.

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