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Although he hasn't been off his game very often for the Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer has wasted little time getting back on track following those rare occasions.
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He'll likely need to be at his best while opposing the MLB's co-leader in home wins since last August.
The Rays will try to avoid their sixth loss in seven games Thursday night when Collin McHugh looks to lead the AL West-leading Houston Astros to their 19th win in 23 games at Minute Maid Park.
After posting a 2.18 ERA with 43 strikeouts over his previous five starts, Archer allowed eight runs and 11 hits while fanning only four over 5 1-3 innings in Saturday's 12-4 loss at Texas.
"I know the guys rely on me to give a better performance," he said. "To boil it down to one thing: pitch execution with two strikes. ... I wasn't able to put guys away like I normally can."
The 26-year-old finished with his fewest strikeouts in nine starts and failed in his second attempt to reach a career-high 11th victory. However, he's allowed two runs or fewer while working into the seventh inning in three starts that followed outings in which he gave up five or more.
"It's motivating because there's always room for improvement," the first-time All-Star said.
Archer (10-9, 2.53 ERA) is 2-1 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts against the Astros. But he yielded six runs - one earned - over three innings in a 7-3 loss in his last outing at Houston on June 14, 2014.
The Astros have batted .215 while averaging 2.7 runs over their last 11 games. Carlos Correa shined Wednesday, hitting his 15th home run and delivering a walkoff single in the 13th inning of a 3-2 win.
Houston (66-55), which has won five of seven overall, would seem to have the right man on the mound as it tries to win its seventh consecutive home series to wrap up this four-game set.
McHugh (13-6, 4.09) looks to match ace Dallas Keuchel for the team lead in wins after posting a 1.80 ERA through his first three August outings. He allowed one run and four hits over seven innings Saturday but got no run support in a 4-2, 11-inning home loss to Detroit.
The right-hander has been at his best at Minute Maid Park, going 5-0 with a 2.48 ERA in his last six starts. He's tied for the MLB lead in home victories since Aug. 1, 2014, at 14-2 over his past 17 outings.
McHugh has a 3.00 ERA in three career starts against the Rays (59-61), though he's received just two total runs of support while taking the loss in all three. He surrendered three runs and four hits over seven innings in a 3-1 loss at Tropicana Field on July 10.
Brandon Guyer took him deep in that contest, but Kevin Kiermaier is 1 for 9 with four strikeouts lifetime in the matchup and Evan Longoria is 0 for 8 with four strikeouts. Guyer is 8 for 16 over a six-game hitting streak after finishing with three hits Wednesday.
Tampa Bay's bid for an AL wild-card spot has taken a hit with back-to-back walkoff defeats.
"(Losses) all count the same," manager Kevin Cash said after the team fell to 1-5 on this 10-game trip. "I don't think there's any sense of desperation at all."