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Astros face Athletics in rubber match

HOUSTON -- Astros rookie right-hander David Paulino endured a tough start Wednesday night, the latest in a string of valiant stopgap performances from Houston's young pitchers striving to make inroads while opportunity knocks.

A pitcher who began the year in the Houston bullpen, right-hander Brad Peacock (4-1, 2.82 ERA), will start the series finale for the Astros against the Oakland A's on Thursday.

Houston beat Oakland 11-8 on Wednesday after the Athletics won 6-4 on Tuesday in the series opener.

Paulino (2-0, 6.52 ERA) and fellow rookie righty Francis Martes (2-0, 5.51 ERA) have been pressed into duty with the Astros down two members of their rotation, ace lefty Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Charlie Morton.

Add in second-year right-hander Joe Musgrove (4-7, 6.01 ERA), who opened the season in the rotation but was optioned to Triple-A Fresno last week, and it has been an up-and-down stretch for the Astros' promising pitchers.

Houston (53-26) is approaching full strength with its starters. Morton should return shortly, and Keuchel is soon to follow.

Right-hander Collin McHugh has missed the entire season but will make a rehab start on Friday. The youngsters might soon find themselves pitching for Triple-A Fresno emboldened by their experiences, but in the interim, they have delivered just enough to keep the Astros rolling along.

"In some ways, it's a harsh way of dealing with things; you've got to forget who's not here and move on with who is here when guys miss time," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's just the mentality of the sport -- next man up -- and we've got to play. You look ahead and there's a lot of games ahead of us.

"There's no wishing that someone could be available or hoping that someone was available. You go with the guys you have, and it forces everyone to elevate their game to be good, especially when you have a team like this."

Peacock will make his seventh start of the season and first since returning from the paternity list following the birth of his first child, Colton Joseph, last Saturday. He is 2-4 with a 4.47 ERA over 13 career appearances (10 starts) against the Athletics, including a 4-1 win on June 19 when he allowed one run on four hits with eight strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

Peacock also has two relief appearances against the Athletics this season.

Oakland rookie right-hander Daniel Gossett (1-2, 4.50 ERA) will make his fourth career start and second against the Astros. He took the loss on June 19 opposite Peacock, allowing two runs on six hits with six strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings.

Gossett is starting in place of right-hander Jharel Cotton, who could start on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves if he gets over a blister problem.

The Athletics (35-43) used duplicate lineups in the first two games of the series, a rarity given their own avalanche of injuries. Oakland has nine players on the disabled list.

While the Wednesday loss snapped a four-game winning streak, the A's have found stability and rhythm with their lineup.

"Yeah, it doesn't happen often with us," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "We feel like there are some parts that are in place right now.

"We want some guys that are on base ahead of the guys that drive in some runs for you. We had a pretty good game all around (Tuesday), so we'll stick with the same lineup."

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