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If Jose Fernandez is to extend the longest winning streak of his career, he must avoid a third consecutive loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The right-hander tries to win a sixth straight start Thursday when the visiting Miami Marlins look to take the four-game home-and-home series with Rays.
Fernandez (6-2, 3.02 ERA) has a 2.03 ERA with 46 strikeouts over a five-start stretch, and he's yielded two runs in 20 innings over the last three. One of those runs came along with nine strikeouts through six of a 3-2 win over Washington on Saturday.
"He was really good," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's smoothing out, you see him using his pitches."
The right-hander is looking to become the first Marlin since Javier Vazquez in 2011 to win six consecutive starts.
Fernandez, who attended high school in Tampa, has lost his only two career starts against the Rays (21-23) - both at Tropicana Field - with a 5.79 ERA.
Evan Longoria homered off Fernandez in October for his lone hit in five at-bats head-to-head.
Fernandez won't be the only starter trying for a needed win at Tropicana Field.
Drew Smyly (2-5, 3.54) is 0-3 with a 4.01 ERA in four starts there. He's allowed two earned runs in each of his last three in town, but the Rays have provided him a combined two runs of support.
Making his first home appearance since May 4, the left-hander has gone 1-2 with a 5.51 ERA on the road since then. He gave up three runs on two homers in 6 1/3 innings of a 5-4 loss at Detroit on Saturday.
"He threw really well, kept us off-balance, used all his pitches," Tigers catcher James McCann told MLB's official website. "But we were able to get to him."
Smyly's only start against the Marlins (24-22) came Sept. 30 when he yielded a run and struck out eight in six innings of a 6-4 home victory.
He has never faced Giancarlo Stanton, and it's uncertain if he will get the chance in this contest. The Miami slugger, batting .119 with two homers and 29 strikeouts in his last 17 games, sat out Wednesday's 4-3 victory with soreness in his right side.
"There was a little bit of this going on in spring training at different times so at this point I'm not really that concerned," Mattingly said. "Hopefully it's not something major, it's a day or two. I think that's what it was in the spring, but we'll find out."
Teammate Christian Yelich could be out of the starting lineup for a sixth consecutive game with back spasms.
"I feel a little better about where he's at," Mattingly said of Yelich, batting .320 with 20 RBIs in 42 games. "We're going to be careful with him, but we feel like we're getting close with him."
Batting .331, Miami's Marcell Ozuna has reached base safely in a career-high 32 straight games. He's hitting .414 in 16 career games against Tampa Bay.
Longoria batted .357 during a 10-game hitting streak before going 1 for 11 in the three games against Miami this week.
Tampa Bay has dropped four of five.