The sizzling Rays have only lost twice in July and both defeats have come at the hands of the Astros, who have the worst record in the Major Leagues.
Behind a brilliant start from rookie Jarred Cosart, the Astros topped Tampa Bay, 2-1, Friday to break the Rays' eight-game winning streak and hand them their first lost since July 3.
The Rays' pitcher on that day was Roberto Hernandez, who will toe the rubber against Houston yet again as Tampa Bay will try to get back on track Saturday.
Hernandez wasn't bad in the outing, surrendering three runs over six innings, but the Tampa Bay offense only mustered one run in his support. The lack of offense with Hernandez on the mound has been a bit of a theme this season -- one that has frustrated manager Joe Maddon. The Rays have averaged four runs per game in his starts, and in five of his last seven outings, the offense has scored three runs or less.
"People need to understand that pitchers need run support," Maddon said. "I think James Shields is going through the same thing in Kansas City right now. Starting pitchers are victims or beneficiaries of run support every game, and [Hernandez has] been the victim. He has pitched a lot better than that record indicates."
Entering Saturday, the record sits at 4-10 on the year with a 4.93 ERA, but the right-hander, who hasn't recorded a win since June 11, has been better lately, recording three straight quality starts.
He pitched six innings and gave up three runs during his last turn in the rotation against Minnesota. The Twins appeared to hit him hard, scattering eight hits against him, but with Hernandez's pitching style, Maddon said that's to be expected at times.
"He's probably our most contact-oriented starter," he said. "He's going to give up some hits and we have to be in the right spots for him, but if you look at the body of work, he's deep into games and pitch-efficient. Those sorts of things normally help keep the bullpen intact. I think he's pitched really well."
The Rays' offense, which was largely dormant on Friday, will face Houston starter Dallas Keuchel for the second time this month. On July 1, the Rays forced Keuchel out of the game with two outs in the fifth inning and scored five runs against him.
The right-hander is 0-1 with a 6.57 ERA over his last three starts.
Astros: Cosart dazzles in debut
With the worst record in the Major Leagues, it's been a rough year for Astros fans, but Cosart gave them a glimpse of a brighter future Friday against the Rays.
The 23-year-old threw eight scoreless innings against the Rays, who have been the hottest team in baseball, and didn't give up a hit until the seventh inning. The rookie also outdueled former Cy Young Award winner David Price, who pitched a complete game but gave up two runs.
Cosart gave up two hits, struck out two and walked three.
Cosart was still sent back to Triple-A after the outing so he could still make his next start with the All-Star break coming up, though it is unclear how long Cosart will stay in the Minors.
Rays: Price continues record streak from starters
He didn't get the win, but Price pitched the 13th consecutive quality start for Rays' starters.
The streak is the longest in franchise history, breaking the previous record of nine set in 2010. If Hernandez gives up three runs or less in at least six innings Saturday, the Rays will tie the Tigers for the longest streak of quality starts this season.
The Rays are 11-2 over the stretch and are four games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.
• The Rays' eight-game winning streak was their second longest in franchise history, trailing only a 12-game streak in 2004.
• After winning Friday, the Astros are 8-9 all-time against the Rays.
• The Rays' .989 fielding percentage is tied for the second best in the Major Leagues. Their 36 errors this season trails only the Orioles (30). The Astros lead the league with 69 errors.
Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.