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MLB: Astros look to keep offense going against Rays

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When Tampa Bay hosts Houston on Saturday afternoon, Rays pitcher Josh Fleming will be tasked with a difficult chore in the matinee affair: shutting down the Astros’ suddenly hot offense.

The game will take place less than 24 hours after the Astros cruised to a 9-2 win by pounding out 15 hits, including four-hit games by both Michael Brantley and Carlos Correa.

After slashing four singles in his first four at-bats, Brantley failed to register his first career five-hit game when he struck out in the eighth against reliever Trevor Richards.

The lefty-hitting Brantley has 16 career four-hit games.

As for the Astros as a team, they have scored at least nine runs on five occasions in 26 games. Their run differential is plus-31, but April ended with them holding just a 14-12 record.

Fleming (1-2, 1.23 ERA) has never made a regular-season appearance against Houston. However, he did toss three innings vs. the Astros, surrendering two runs on three hits and getting a no-decision, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series last season.

“He’s nasty. That’s the only way I describe him,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “He’s just so efficient with his pitches. He’s so smart, has a great pace, and he just does something up there to make hitters look off-balance or uncomfortable.

“His pitches, none of them are straight. They all move. I’m a big Josh Fleming fan.”

The Rays announced Friday that starting pitcher Rich Hill was placed on the COVID-19 injured list, which Yoshi Tsutsugo just returned from. Both were having side effects from their vaccines.

Tsutsugo was back in the lineup Friday night in the first game of the series and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and walk for the Rays, who have lost six of their past nine and scored two runs or fewer in five of the eight games on the current homestand.

After missing two games while being on the COVID-19 injured list, Houston designated hitter Yordan Alvarez activated on Friday. He went 2-for-5 with a run.

One of Friday’s offensive highlights was Houston catcher Martin Maldonado legging out his fourth career triple in the fourth inning.

“When I saw he was trying to pull up at second base, I was like ‘No, keep going!'” Correa said. “I love when we’re having fun with the game we love.”

The victory lifted manager Dusty Baker to 12th all-time in managerial wins with 1,906, past Casey Stengel.

The Astros are hoping pitcher Jose Urquidy continues to keep runs off the board — they just need to help out the right-hander more.

Houston holds a 2-3 mark in games started this year by the right-hander, who turns 26 on Saturday.

On Monday in a 5-2 victory over the visiting Seattle Mariners, Urquidy (1-2, 4.67 ERA) earned his first win of the season by firing six innings of five-hit ball. He yielded only runs on solo shots by the Mariners’ Kyle Lewis and Kyle Seager.

Like Fleming, Urquidy has never faced Saturday’s opposition in the regular season, but he did log an 0-1 record with a 2.57 ERA in two appearances, one start, against the Rays in the 2020 ALCS. He also faced the Rays once in the 2019 ALDS, giving up three hits in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

–Field Level Media

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