Lance McCullers recently took a step closer to returning to form for the Houston Astros, and earning his first win would prolong the wait for Kevin Gausman of the Baltimore Orioles.
McCullers looks to continue creeping toward the form of his breakout 2015 rookie campaign as the Astros go for a sweep of the visiting Orioles on Thursday night.
Houston (19-28) snapped a four-game losing streak with Tuesday's 3-2, 13-inning win in the opener and then beat Baltimore (26-18) for the fifth time in six meetings with Wednesday's 4-3 victory.
Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena homered as the Astros took advantage of four Orioles errors to earn the series in the middle game. Valbuena homered for the second straight day with a tiebreaking solo shot in the sixth inning.
McCullers (0-1, 5.91 ERA) is seeking his first win after sitting out most of the opening six weeks with shoulder soreness.
The 22-year-old right-hander returned with a solid outing outside of one inning in an 8-7 win at Boston on May 13. He gave up seven hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings while walking three and striking out four - the damage coming when the first five Red Sox hitters reached and scored in the second inning.
His line looked much better in Friday's 2-1 loss to Texas, surrendering five hits and two runs in six innings while walking three and striking out seven. McCullers' only glaring mistake came from Prince Fielder's two-run double in the third inning.
"We have to remember that there's still some getting-into-the-season component of Lance," manager A.J. Hinch told MLB's official website. "When you go six innings and give up two runs on one play, it's a pretty good outing."
That was McCullers' 2016 home debut after going 4-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 starts at Minute Maid Park in 2015. That home dominance included his lone start against Baltimore, throwing a four-hitter in a 3-1 victory June 3. McCullers struck out 11 without issuing a walk.
Adam Jones went 2 for 4 against McCullers last season but enters in a 3-for-34 slump.
Baltimore will counter with Gausman (0-1, 2.70), who is still searching for his first win despite his quality ERA and a 1.12 WHIP through his first six starts.
The right-hander logged his fourth quality start in Saturday's 3-1 road win over the Los Angeles Angels, though he settled for his fifth straight no-decision after holding the Angels to eight hits and a run in 6 2/3 innings.
''I'll get at least one win this year, I'll guarantee you that,'' Gausman said. ''With this lineup, you just try to keep the game as close as you can. It's all about the team win, and these guys came up big when they needed to. They like to make it dramatic.''
It marked the third time in his six starts the Orioles have supplied Gausman with no runs of support.
He's never faced the Astros, who are batting an AL-worst .228.