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Astros drop series opener, 4-3, to the Rays

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in seemingly months — it hasn’t been nearly that long, but it sure feels like it — Cristian Javier actually had a respectable pitching line.

6 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO

Of course, the pitching line only tells you so much. While Javier did have a better day at the office, as evidenced by his 22 swing-and-misses, there were still a few issues at hand. For one, he hung a slider to Brandon Lowe in the first inning, leading to a three-run home run. In addition, Javier hit three opposing hitters. He also had to navigate a bases loaded, no out jam in the top half of the fourth inning.

Under the hood, though, we saw Javier’s best start in weeks. His four-seam appeared more lively, with its uptick in velocity. 17 of his 22 swing-and-misses occurred with his fastball. While he wasn’t perfect, Javier looked more like the pitcher he was earlier in the season. The Astros will need more of that Javier in the coming weeks.

Offensively, Houston struggled a bit, especially in the later innings. Only one base runner past the fourth inning, a ninth inning walk from Chas McCormick. Outside of Jose Altuve’s triple in the first, scored by Jeremy Peña’s groundout, and José Abreu’s two-run shot in the fourth, the lineup was relatively ineffective.

For relief, Héctor Neris and Bryan Abreu held their own, keeping the Rays off the board in the seventh and eighth innings. Alas, Ryan Pressly couldn’t toss another zero, instead allowing former teammate Jose Siri to score the winning run in the ninth inning.

Thankfully, the Astros still only trail the Rangers by two games as the AL West leader lost to the Padres on Friday night. But with the calendar about to turn to August, Houston can’t afford to allow many more opportunities like this one to slip away again.