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    ST. PETERSBURG [url=http://www.packerscheapstore.com/jake-ryan-jersey-cheap]Jake Ryan Jersey[/url] , Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays continue to win games they perhaps shouldn’t, and they’ll have an opportunity for more of that Saturday against Houston’s Justin Verlander.

    The Rays (40-41) hit the midway point of their 2018 season with a 3-2 win over Houston, giving them six wins in their last seven games. Their pitching has led the way — three times in the last four games, they have held their opponent to three hits or less, this after doing so only three times in the first 77 games of this season.

    “If we are going to win a lot of game and we are going to string a bunch together, we have to have good pitching,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The timely hitting is great, but we have to stay in the ballgame. For us to have allowed three runs in 18 innings against arguably the best team in baseball, we should find a way to win one.”

    Houston will send Verlander, who has been dominant (9-3, 1.82 ERA) but has gotten surprisingly little run support from a potent Astros lineup.

    Houston is just 11-7 in games he starts, and the Astros have scored a total of two runs in five of those losses.

    So Saturday could look like Thursday’s 1-0 Astros win, or could look like Friday’s 3-2 loss, which saw two errors factor in Tampa Bay’s scoring.

    Verlander faced the Rays just 11 days ago in Houston, again pitching well, allowing one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings, but ultimately taking a no-decision in a 2-1 loss. He has 136 strikeouts in 113 innings this season and a ridiculous 0.81 WHIP.

    Against the Rays for his career, Verlander is 8-3 with a 3.18 ERA, but since 2010, he’s just 4-3, despite a 1.72 ERA in his last five starts against the Rays. At Tropicana Field [url=http://www.officialbluejackets.com/authentic-adidas-seth-jones-jersey]Seth Jones Jersey[/url] , he’s 5-2 all-time with a 2.53 ERA, including a 1.20 ERA in his last two outings.

    The Rays counter with reliever-turned-starter Ryne Stanek, who has thrived in the “opener” role that Tampa Bay has essentially created in the past six weeks. He’s starting for the second time in three days against the Astros having thrown 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless baseball Thursday night. For the month of June, he’s pitched in 11 games and 14 2/3 innings without allowing a run.

    He’s held opponents to just four hits, lowering his season ERA to 1.85, just barely above Verlander’s.

    The Astros know they have to be careful with the white ceiling of Tropicana Field — the Rays’ three-run fourth inning got a spark Friday when center fielder Jake Marisnick couldn’t hold onto a pop at the warning track, allowing a run to score.

    “When you play here, you try to not take your eye off the ball,” Marisnick said. “With the ceiling, I kind of glanced quickly at the ball, then looked back up and lost track. I wasn’t able to come up with it. That’s a play I need to make 10 out of 10 times.”

    Justin Verlander’s worst start with the Houston Astros might have been OK if not for Wilson Ramos.

    Ramos drove in four runs in the first two innings against Verlander and the Tampa Bay Rays went on to a 5-2 win over the Astros on Saturday.

    ”I wasn’t sharp, but also I didn’t have luck on my side,” Verlander said. ”I made an adjustment during the third inning that I thought was good, but it was too little too late.”

    Verlander (9-4) gave up the most runs (5) and hits (9) of any of his 23 starts since his trade to Houston late last summer. He struck out eight in a season-low five innings after coming in with a major league-leading 1.82 ERA – though it was 4.34 in six June starts. The Astros have lost his last three starts.

    Matt Duffy finished with three hits, including two in the first two innings, to help the Rays win for the seventh time in eight tames to move to .500 (41-41) for the first time since June 1.

    ”I gave up three hard-hit balls, all to the same guy. The rest of `em, nobody hit the ball hard,” Verlander said.

    Ramos got the Rays on the scoreboard with a two-run double in the first, and made it 5-0 with a two-run single in the second. Those two at bats summarized Verlander’s day.

    ”The first at bat [url=http://www.officialbluejackets.com/authentic-adidas-sonny-milano-jersey]Sonny Milano Jersey[/url] , I put him in a 3-1 situation where, bases loaded, he knows a heater’s coming, and he hit it off the wall. So that’s my fault,” Verlander said. ”His next bat I got a ground ball up the middle on a slider, which is kind of what you’re looking for. But it found a hole.”

    Tampa Bay has held opponents to two runs or fewer in five straight games for only the second time in franchise history.

    ”The way these guys are throwing right now, we’re tough to beat,” said Kevin Kiermaier, who scored in each of the first two innings.

    Alex Bregman got the Astros on the board with a two-run homer in the sixth off Vidal Nuno. It was Bregman’s 16th home run and his fifth in six games.

    ”They’ve been throwing the ball well over there, and we haven’t really been able to put anything together,” Bregman said. ”Verlander was a little unfortunate today with some of the weak contact that went for hits, but we’ve got to do a better job of putting up runs for him.

    Nuno (2-0) got the win after pitching 4 2/3 innings of relief, giving up two runs and four hits while striking out four. Sergio Romo pitched ninth for his seventh save in 11 opportunities.

    Ryne Stanek pitched the first inning for Tampa Bay, giving up a single to Jose Altuve, Houston’s only hit in the first four innings.

    RARE ERROR

    Adeiny Hechavarria made a fielding error on George Springer’s grounder in the top of the sixth just before Bregman’s homer. It ended a streak of 94 games and 319 chances in which the Rays’ shortstop had not committed a miscue. It was the longest errorless streak in franchise history for a shortstop. Hechavarria’s last error had come on July 30, 2017 at Yankee Stadium.

    TRAINER’S ROOM

    Astros: RHP Joe Smith (sore right elbow) will make what the Astros expect to be a final rehab appearance at Double-A Corpus Christi before being activated. … 1B Yuli Gurriel (paternity leave) is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday.

    Rays: RHP Wilmer Font was placed on the 10-day disabled and RHP Hunter Wood was recalled from Triple-A Durham. Manager Kevin Cash said an optimistic timeframe has Font missing eight weeks. … Cash didn’t completely rule out RHP Chris Archer (left abdominal strain) from returning after his first rehab start Tuesday night锟?for Class A Charlotte.

    UP NEXT

    The series finale will be a matchup of two of baseball’s hottest pitchers. Houston RHP Charlie Morton (10-1, 2.54) has won three straight starts and has not given up an earned run in his last two. LHP Blake Snell (10-4, 2.31) did not give up a hit until the seventh inning of the Rays’ 11-0 win against Washington on Monday night.

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