Fiers takes the hill for series opener vs. Rays

Fiers takes the hill for series opener vs. Rays

Rays right-hander Alex Cobb will face the Astros for the second time in his career -- and first in nearly three years -- when Tampa Bay faces Mike Fiers and the Astros Friday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

Cobb (1-1, 4.50 ERA) is coming off an 11-hit outing against the Red Sox in what was his first start without a strikeout. Fiers (0-1, 5.40 ERA) made his last start April 12 in Seattle, when he gave up five runs and six hits in four innings.

Cobb said it's imperative for the Rays' starters to pitch deeper into games. It's part of his pregame emphasis -- something he thinks about the night before an outing.

"Saving the bullpen's arms now is just as important as doing it in games in August and September," Cobb said. "You want to be able to go to guys you want in that situation, not guys you need to go in that situation to cover innings.

The Astros went 4-1 on their first road trip of the season, taking two of three games at Seattle and winning a pair in Oakland (the third game was rained out). The Rays are off to one of their best home starts in their history, winning eight of their first 10 games at Tropicana Field.

Three things to know:

• The Astros are hitting .309 with a .390 on-base percentage through their first five road games. Norichika Aoki is hitting .500 (6-for-12) on the road, Jose Altuve is hitting .529 (9-for-17) and Yuli Gurriel is hitting .429 (6-for-14).

• Astros outfielder George Springer has played in 203 consecutive games, which is the longest current streak in the Majors and sixth longest in club history. He's played in every game since Sept. 7, 2015.

• Cobb's changeup, once dynamic in his rise to prominence in 2013-14, doesn't seem to be affecting hitters the same way since his return from Tommy John surgery. Dating back to his first return start last September, Cobb has generated swings-and-misses on 23.9 percent of all opposing batters' swings against his changeup. That rate is down significantly from Cobb's 31.7 percent "whiff" per swing rate on the pitch from 2013-14.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.