ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Steve Pearce's bat is one of the reasons the Tampa Bay Rays are beginning to feel better about their offense.
The versatile slugger continued a hot stretch with three hits and two RBIs on Friday night, helping the Rays hold off the Houston Astros 4-3 for their sixth win in seven games.
''He's been on fire at the plate,'' manager Kevin Cash said after the infielder/outfielder/designated hitter boosted his batting average to .364 with six doubles, eight homers and 20 RBIs over his last 32 games.
Pearce (sore right elbow) played in the field for the first time since May 31, starting at first base, where he made a nice catch on a low throw from shortstop Brad Miller to end the game with the bases loaded.
''Miller made a great play. He gave me a good hop,'' Pearce said. ''He gave me something I can handle, and I was able to make the scoop.''
Pearce had a two-run single in the first inning, while Logan Forsythe and Miller drove in runs with two-out hits off Lance McCullers (3-2) in the second to give Matt Andriese (5-0) an early four-run lead.
Houston rallied with three runs in the sixth, two on Jason Castro's homer that chased Andriese. The Astros, however, stranded 11 runners and were not able to overcome the slow start by McCullers against the young pitcher's hometown team.
''Same script,'' McCullers said. ''Every time I get hurt it's in the first inning or the second inning.''
The 22-year-old right-hander, who grew up in Tampa, allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. He walked four and struck out seven in his sixth start since returning from a six-week stint on the disabled list because of soreness in his pitching shoulder.
''I threw well after the second,'' McCullers said. ''Four runs is pretty tough to come back from with their staff and bullpen.''
Andriese repeatedly worked through trouble to join Matt Moore, James Shields and Jeff Niemann as the only Tampa Bay pitchers to begin a season 5-0 or better. The right-hander yielded three runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings, turning over a 4-3 lead to relievers Erasmo Ramirez, Xavier Cedeno and Alex Colome, who earned his 18th save by working out a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the ninth.
Houston had nine baserunners (five singles, four walks) and two hits with men in scoring position in the first four innings, yet trailed 4-0 after Pearce and Forsythe got the Rays off to a fast start.
George Springer was thrown out trying to score from second base on Jose Altuve's single in the first, and the Astros left the bases loaded after Marwin Gonzalez, Altuve and Colby Rasmus singled with two outs in the third.
''We had quite a few opportunities early in the game,'' Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. ''We left seven or eight guys on with Andriese, and then obviously with the bases loaded, one out (in the ninth). Close game, tough loss. Opportunities missed, but we kept fighting.''
Astros: SS Carlos Correa (sprained left ankle) was out of the lineup as expected, however Hinch said the 21-year-old could play this weekend. Correa, who's day-to-day, was hurt in Thursday's game at Texas.
''We have a chance to maybe see him this series,'' Hinch said. ''We have an off day coming Monday, so we'll see how the next couple days go.''
Rays: Forsythe (left shoulder) was reinstated from the 15-day DL after missing 28 games. INF Nick Franklin was optioned to Triple-A Durham. . RHPs Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley, both recovering from Tommy John surgery, have increased their bullpen sessions to 45 pitches.
McCullers has made two career starts against Tampa Bay, both at Tropicana Field, where he yielded four runs over six innings of a loss last July. The pitcher played in high school at Tampa Jesuit, which is about 20 miles northeast of the Rays' stadium. has a career record of 9-9 in 28 starts - with most of his success coming at Houston's Minute Maid Park (6-2, 2.00 ERA in 13 regular-season starts).
The Rays began a stretch in which they will play 20 of 27 games at Tropicana Field, where Tampa Bay entered Friday night averaging an AL-worst 3.27 runs a game compared to 4.94 on road - third-best in the league.
''I don't have a good answer. . I don't think anybody has,'' Cash said. ''We need to figure it out.''
The Rays send RHP Chris Archer (4-7, 4.73 ERA) to the mound against RHP Mike Fiers (3-3, 5.00) in the middle date of the three-game weekend series. Archer is 3-1 with a 0.80 ERA in five career starts vs. Houston and enters Saturday with a streak of 15 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the Astros. Tampa Bay is one of three teams - along with Baltimore and Milwaukee - that the 30-year-old Fiers has not faced during his major league career.