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HOU@PIT: Bedard fans three, holds Pirates to two runs

No team has given the Astros a ruder welcome to the American League than new divisional foe Oakland.

The Astros will be looking for their first win against the Athletics in seven tries when they welcome the A's to Minute Maid Park on Friday for the opener of a three-game series. The A's swept a pair of three-game sets, one each in Oakland and Houston, earlier this season.

"I think we were basically going through a tough stretch for our starting pitching at the time," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "I feel like our starters have done a much better job as we sit here today. They've played well against us. We've given them a couple of games by our inability to pitch to contact and allowed the counts to get real deep and the pitch count to get spiked up, but I feel like we're a much better ballclub than what they faced early in the year."

Astros starters have gone 0-6 with a 12.36 ERA against the A's, including two outings that lasted less than an inning. In the teams' six matchups, Oakland is hitting .314, while Houston is hitting .233.

"We have played them well. We need to continue to play well," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "You can't just throw your glove out there and think you're going to win. They've been swinging the bat a lot better, and they've made some personnel moves. They look to be a better team right now."

While the Astros have won four of their past seven, the A's also look to be a better team, as they arrive in Houston having won five of six. After sweeping three games from the Royals, the A's took two of three from the Rangers to start their six-game Texas trip.

Oakland will look to extend its success -- overall and against Houston -- when it calls on left-hander Tommy Milone in Friday's series opener. Milone has turned things around of late, snapping a five-start losing streak his last time out.

Though Milone had allowed no earned runs in two of the five losses, it was still a relief to earn the victory after limiting the Royals to one run over six innings on Saturday.

"Losing five in a row is never a good thing, whether you pitch well or not," Milone said. "You want to win as a team. Losing is not fun."

The Astros will counter with fellow southpaw Erik Bedard, who is yearning for a win of his own. Like Milone, Bedard has pitched well of late but has yet to enter into the win column this season.

The veteran lefty has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last three outings, but has walked away with a no-decision each time. On a positive note, Bedard logged a season-high six innings his last time out, yielding two runs in an eventual 4-2 victory over the Pirates. Even so, he enters Friday's series opener sporting an 0-2 record to go along with an unsightly 6.00 ERA.

"He's now at the point where he's completely built up and strong," Porter said after Bedard's season-long performance. "Every time this guy seems to get in trouble, it's almost like he stepped behind the rubber, rubbed the ball up and made quality pitch after quality pitch. He was outstanding tonight."

Athletics: Lowrie hopes to return Friday
Infielder Jed Lowrie is hoping to return to the starting lineup for Friday's game after sitting out Wednesday's series finale against the Rangers due to a bruised right foot.

Lowrie initially suffered the injury Tuesday night when he was hit on the foot by a Yu Darvish pitch in the fifth inning. Serving as the club's designated hitter in that contest, Lowrie was later lifted for a pinch-hitter prior to his next at-bat, though X-rays came back negative.

In 45 games this season, Lowrie is hitting .301 with three homers and 21 RBIs.

Astros: Dominguez dealing with quad injury
Third baseman Matt Dominguez's sore left quadriceps muscle kept him out of the lineup on Wednesday after he went 4-for-8 in the first two games of the team's series against the Royals. Dominguez has been getting treatment since first sustaining the injury while working in the batting cage about two weeks ago, but is not expected to miss much time.

With Dominguez out, Porter turned to Jimmy Paredes at the hot corner on Wednesday. It was Paredes' first start there this year after 11 in right field, but he did play the position extensively at Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier in the season, as well as during a stint with Houston in 2011.

Worth noting
• The A's are 11-1 all-time against the Astros, with the lone loss coming on June 12, 2007.

• Oakland closer Grant Balfour has converted each of his last 27 save opportunities, tying him with Andrew Bailey for the second longest streak in franchise history. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley converted 40 straight from Sept. 15, 1991-Aug. 7, 1992.

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