Lefty Joe Saunders can continue a win streak that he took into the All-Star break when the Seattle Mariners begin the second half on Friday in the opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
The 32-year-old native of Virginia was 3-5 in his initial eight decisions of 2013, but won five of eight to close the first half, including three straight between July 2 and 12.
He surrendered five hits in seven scoreless innings in his last pre-break appearance against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - the team that drafted him in 2002 - while winning an 8-3 decision.
In those final three starts, Saunders allowed three runs on 21 hits in 20 2/3 innings, dropping his earned run average from 4.98 to 4.24.
He's faced Houston twice this season and split two decisions while allowing 17 hits and eight runs in 11 1/3 innings.
For the Astros, righty Bud Norris will try to reverse a late first-half tailspin.
The California native was 5-4 on the season after a 2-0 defeat of the Angels on June 1, but went on to lose four of five decisions between June 6 and July 9.
His last appearance was against St. Louis and he took a 9-5 loss after allowing seven runs on 11 hits in five innings of work.
Norris met Seattle on June 11 and lost a 4-0 decision, but defeated the Mariners, 3-2, on April 23 with five innings of one-run ball.
On Sunday in Seattle, Michael Saunders' two-run homer helped the Mariners defeat the Los Angeles Angels, 4-3, in finale of a three-game set at Safeco Field.
Raul Ibanez and Mike Zunino each added an RBI as well for the Mariners, who swept the Angels for the first time since 2006. Saunders' blast extended Seattle's franchise record to 22 consecutive games with a home run.
"Baseball is certainly fun right now, there's no question," said Saunders. "We're all feeding off each other, the energy is high right now. We're playing great ball."
Hisashi Iwakuma (8-4), a 2013 All-Star, surrendered three runs on seven hits and a walk while fanning seven in seven frames. The win ended a three-game losing skid and a five-start winless drought for the Japan native.
Tom Wilhelmsen faced the minimum in the ninth to grab his 19th save of the season and secure the first series sweep for Seattle this year.
At Tampa Bay, Chris Archer threw his first career shutout to help lift the Rays past the Astros, 5-0, in the rubber match of a three-game set at Tropicana Field.
Erik Bedard (3-6) surrendered three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits and two walks while striking out six over five frames to absorb the loss.
Brett Wallace's double was the only extra-base hit for the Astros, who ended the first half of the season losing seven of nine.
"We've been in a lot of games that we haven't been able to pull out," said Astros manager Bo Porter. "I think as we move forward in this second half, I think that we will find a way to start to win a lot of those games."
The Astros won five of the first nine games between the teams in 2013, including two of three in a pair of series in April. Seattle won two of three at home in June.