ST. PETERSBURG — Ben Zobrist said he has felt bad for RHP Roberto Hernandez, who has been the Rays' "hard-luck" starter, often victimized by little run support.
That's why it felt so good Saturday to rally for Hernandez in a 4-3 victory over the Astros. It gave the veteran his first win since June 11 and helped him avoid tying a club record for losses before the All-Star break. Hernandez (5-10) delivered his fourth straight quality start and snapped a four-game losing streak spanning five starts, during which he allowed just 18 runs.
"When you're always shaking somebody's hand saying, 'Nice job, stay with everything, it's good, you look really good,' that's nice," manager Joe Maddon said. "But to be able to say that with a win attached to your name as a starting pitcher means a lot more."
Hernandez allowed three runs on four hits in the first inning, including a two-run homer by Brett Wallace. But he settled in to go six innings.
Hernandez said he doesn't worry about things he can't control and is "happy with the first half (of the season). … Everybody knows I've had a lot of losing, but I feel good. I've been pitching well."
MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Alex Cobb (mild concussion) will take a big step in his recovery today by facing hitters for the first time in a pregame live batting practice session. Cobb, hit in the head by a line drive June 15, took another concussion test Saturday, and it went well enough for him to progress to today's pitching session. He said he believes he will need one or two simulated games before starting a rehab assignment, targeting an early August return.
"Once I got on the bullpen mound (July 5), I knew things were going to start happening pretty quickly," Cobb said. "Every fifth day, there's kind of something new in the process. Obviously, this is a much bigger one with getting hitters in there."
PITCHING IN I: The Rays have done better throwing out basestealers. Opponents are 28-for-41 (68.3 percent) since May 24. Before that, they were 40-for-47 (85 percent).
Maddon said "everything has been better," but it starts on the mound with the key being pitchers coming quicker to the plate and holding runners. Hernandez picked off 2B Jose Altuve in the fifth Saturday.
"It's been on the pitchers," Maddon said. "And they're doing a better job."
Pitching in II: The team set its rotation for after the All-Star break. LHP David Price starts Friday followed by RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Chris Archer, LHP Matt Moore and Hernandez.
CLOSE CALL: OF Sam Fuld said it would have been interesting to see if he could have scored the tying run in the ninth inning of Friday's 2-1 loss but believed it would have been tough to come from first on Zobrist's two-out single. Fuld, who was running on the hit to right-center, wasn't surprised third-base coach Tom Foley held him, especially with 3B Evan Longoria coming up. Longoria struck out looking to end the game.
Foley said it was a close call but the Astros got the ball in quickly. "I don't want us out of it," Foley said. "If he had a chance to score, I would have sent him."
FAMILIAR FACE: Astros DH Carlos Peña hit leadoff against his ex-team, going 1-for-3 with a walk. He received an ovation before his first at-bat.
MISCELLANY: Longoria went 0-for-4 and is hitting .125 over his past 17 games (7-for-56). … INF Ryan Roberts was pulled from Friday's game with Triple-A Durham due to a back injury. … Durham LHP Charles Riefenhauser (U.S.) and Class A Charlotte LHP Enny Romero (World) will be part of today's All-Star Futures Game (2 p.m., ESPN2). … Hernandez and 1B James Loney will sign autographs for kids 14 and younger down the rightfield line from 12:30 to 1 p.m today.