Having secured just their third series victory of the season, the Houston Astros look for their first sweep of 2013 as they wrap a three-game set against the struggling Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Astros, last in the AL West, carried a six-game slide into this series, but have taken the first two matchups and can match their longest winning streak of the season with a victory tonight. Houston won three straight from April 9-12, recording one of its two series wins over Seattle while taking the opener of a three-game set from the Angels.
Los Angeles won the final two games of that meeting, but has already secured its first series loss to Houston since 2004.
Bud Norris tossed eight-plus innings of one-run ball in Wednesday's 3-1 victory. He gave up back-to-back singles to begin the ninth before getting replaced by closer Jose Veras. Veras struck out Mark Trumbo before hitting Josh Hamilton with a pitch.
With the winning run on base, Howie Kendrick hit into a game-ending double play, the Angels' fourth of the game, and secure his club's fourth straight setback and ninth in 11 games.
"When guys like that throw that good, you have to find a way to get it done because they deserve it to get that win," said Astros closer Jose Veras, who notched his fourth save of the season.
Marwin Gonzalez and Jimmy Paredes each recorded RBI doubles, while Chris Carter clubbed a solo homer to help the Astros win for only the third time in their last 13 games.
Hamilton's solo homer, just his third home run of the season and first since April 14, tallied Los Angeles' only run as the club sits only 1 1/2 games ahead of Houston in the division.
Joe Blanton dropped to 0-6 on the season after allowing all three runs over 6 2/3 innings.
"It's not who you're playing or where you're playing; it's how you're playing," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And right now, we're not doing enough things well to set the game up on our terms and give ourselves the margin of error you need when you don't get a break."
At 11-22, the Angels have matched the worst start in club history through 33 games set in 1969 and 1976.
Looking to help his club salvage the finale of this set, the Angels' Jason Vargas makes the start tonight since recording his first victory of the season and fourth shutout of his career.
The 30-year-old snapped a three-decision slide on Friday versus the Baltimore Orioles, holding them to three hits and two walks in a 4-0 win. He didn't allow his first hit until the fifth inning and threw 70 of his 107 pitches for strikes.
Over his last three starts, Vargas has allowed five runs over 24 innings.
"There's no doubt that he's throwing more strikes," Scioscia said on his team's website of the difference in Vargas' outings these past three starts. "I think he's not letting counts get as deep, and when he has a chance to put hitters away, he's making a pitch."
The left-hander, now 1-3 with a 3.72 earned run average through six starts, will face the Astros for the first time since 2005 with the Florida Marlins. He picked up a loss on that day, yielding three runs on four hits, two homers and a pair of walks.
Houston's Lucas Harrell will look to rebound on Thursday after getting beat up by the Detroit Tigers in his most recent trip to the hill.
Harrell went into that game on Saturday 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA over his previous four starts before allowing eight runs for the second time this season. The righty was also charged with a season-high 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings, falling to 3-3 on the season and lifting his ERA from 3.60 to 5.03.
"They just placed the ball in the right spot. It was just one of those days where even when you make a good pitch, they still get a hit," Harrell said.
The 27-year-old Harrell faced the Angels for the first time in his career on April 13 -- one start after allowing eight runs in a loss to Oakland -- and did not factor into a 5-4 loss after yielding a run over 5 2/3 frames.