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Astros-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

The Oakland Athletics weren't very welcoming to the AL West newcomers in 2013, winning 15 of 19 meetings en route to their second straight division title.

With Sonny Gray seeking his third straight victory, the Athletics hope to begin a similar run of success against the Houston Astros as they open a three-game series Friday night.

Last season, Oakland (10-5) won the first 10 matchups after Houston (5-11) had moved from the NL Central. In winning 15 of 19 in the season series, the A's batted .277 - 23 points higher than their season average - while their starters posted a 2.84 ERA.

Now they'll try to win for the 21st time in 26 all-time meetings as Gray (2-0, 0.95 ERA) takes the mound. The right-hander has given up four runs - all in the first three innings - with 19 strikeouts over 19 frames in his first three starts.

''I have to be able to get into that routine that rhythm early on," Gray said. "We'll work on it, we'll get better at it and we'll see what happens.''

Although he's won five straight regular-season decisions, Gray's last defeat came against the Astros on Sept. 5 when he surrendered three runs - two earned - over eight innings in a 3-2 home loss. Less than a month earlier, he had fanned nine while giving up four hits over eight frames in a 5-0 win in Oakland.

Gray, 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA in eight career regular-season home starts, may have to pitch deep into this contest after the A's used 10 relievers in their last two games.

Oakland, whose starters have a 2.63 ERA while winning eight of 10, are coming off a 7-2 road trip that concluded with a 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels. The A's should be able to continue that trend against a Houston team that has totaled seven runs while hitting .185 during a four-game losing streak.

Alex Presley drove in the lone tally Thursday in a 5-1 loss to visiting Kansas City. Houston, which has fanned 37 times in its last three games, struck out in seven consecutive at-bats during one stretch.

The Astros will try to provide some run support for Jarred Cosart (1-1, 4.00), who hasn't won since blanking the New York Yankees over five innings in his first start. He shut down Texas on Saturday after allowing three runs in the first four innings, finishing with a career-best eight strikeouts and two walks over seven frames in a 6-5, 10-inning road win.

The right-hander has 15 strikeouts and six walks in his first three outings after fanning 33 and walking 35 in his rookie season.

''It's something I really worked on in spring training," Cosart said.

Cosart has allowed two runs - one earned - over 13 innings in two career meetings with the A's.

Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Eric Sogard have gone a combined 2 for 16 when facing Cosart, but Josh Donaldson is 4 for 5 with a double in the matchup. Moss ended an eight-game homerless drought Wednesday.

Former Houston infielder Jed Lowrie is 6 for 10 with four doubles in the last two games, while Donaldson has gone 5 for 9.

Coco Crisp is expected to return to his leadoff role after not starting the last three games because of tightness in his left hamstring.

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