Skidding right-hander Homer Bailey returns to his home state tonight when the first-place Cincinnati Reds visit the last-place Houston Astros in the middle test of a three-game weekend series.
The Reds have the best record in the majors and hold down the top spot in the National League's Central Division, while the Astros own the worst record in the big leagues and are 40 1/2 games behind the Reds in the Central.
Bailey, a 26-year-old native of La Grange, Texas, was 9-6 after a 3-1 defeat of Milwaukee on July 20, but has won just once in seven starts since while watching his earned run average swell from 3.74 to 4.24.
He's 1-3 in his following seven appearances - the Reds are 4-3 in those games - and has pitched seven innings just once while failing to last five innings twice.
Bailey dropped an 8-2 verdict at home to St. Louis in his most recent outing on Aug. 26 after allowing five runs in nine hits in six innings.
Bailey is 4-0 six career starts against the Astros and last faced them on July 25, when he allowed five hits in seven scoreless innings while getting a no- decision in the team's 5-3 win.
Houston goes with 27-year-old righty Lucas Harrell, who's accounted for 10 of their 40 wins on the season.
A winner just once in 17 big-league outings before this season, Harrell got to double digits in 2012 with a 10-1 defeat of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Aug. 14 after allowing a run in eight innings.
He's allowed two or fewer runs in eight of his last nine starts and has pitched at least seven innings in four of those games.
Houston, which lost 22 games in August, was 2-3 in his starts during the month.
Harrell got a no-decision in his most recent outing on Aug. 26, allowing a run on two hits in seven innings of a 2-1 Astros loss to the New York Mets.
He's 0-1 in three meetings with Cincinnati, including a no-decision July 24.
On Friday, Jay Bruce hit a three-run home run to help Cincinnati to a 9-3 win. Zack Cozart hit a two-run home run while Brandon Phillips added three hits and a run scored for the Reds, who have won their past four games.
Mike Leake (7-8) got the win for Cincinnati as he gave up just two runs on seven hits with two walks and six strikeouts over six innings.
"They made it a little tough on me," Leake said. "I was kind of missing just off and they were being patient. It was a good plan on their part."
Fernando Martinez and Matt Dominguez each hit a solo home run for the Astros. Fernando Abad (0-2) gave up six runs on nine hits in just 4 1/3 innings.