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HOU@LAD: Norris one-hits Dodgers through six innings

Because they're so early and the games don't count, Spring Training matchups rarely matter once the regular season starts, especially months after the fact.

But sometimes, in Interleague Play, for example, those run-ins come in handy when pitchers are preparing to face teams they haven't seen much in their careers. On Saturday, Tampa Bay right-hander Wade Davis (6-5, 4.57 ERA) looks to draw upon his Spring Training experience when he and and the Rays face Houston and right-hander Bud Norris (4-5, 3.26) in the second of a three-game series at 6:05 p.m. CT at Minute Maid Park.

Davis and Norris faced one another on March 24 in Spring Training, a start Davis only made because his scheduled outing was pushed back because of illness. Davis worked six innings that day and said he remembers some matchups from that day that could help him when he takes the mound Saturday.

"I got to face [Michael] Bourn and [Carlos] Lee and [Brett] Wallace, and some of the better hitters, and got a pretty good understanding of their swings, and I've still got a pretty good mental picture of it," Davis said. "It'll help me out a little bit."

Davis is coming off two consecutive wins, the last of which was a six-inning performance in which he held the Marlins to one run. Despite that, and his solid 3.18 ERA in four career Interleague outings, Davis admitted Friday that he isn't that big of a fan of the biggest change brought about by Interleague Play.

"I'm a fan of watching it more than I am probably being in it," Davis said. "Pitching against the other pitcher is much better than trying to hit the other pitcher."

Unlike Davis, Norris has faced the Rays before, on May 23, 2010, allowing five runs (four earned) in five innings while striking out 10. That outing is Norris' only career Interleague start.

Norris has been impressive lately -- posting a 0.86 ERA in his past three starts -- but hasn't gotten much run support from his teammates. He threw 99 pitches in six innings in his last start against the Dodgers, and said afterward he was upset at coming up so early despite allowing only one hit.

"It's tough to lose 1-0 ballgames back-to-back starts," Norris said afterward. "Like I said, I didn't really get an opportunity to stay out there and last longer for these guys."

Although he was disappointed with not pitching deeper into games,pitchers like Norris have Astros general manager Ed Wade excited about his staff.

"Our starting pitching has gotten a lot better," Wade said. "The game revolves around starting pitching, and that's been a plus for us."

Rays: Ruggiano returns to Texas
• Justin Ruggiano, who played in college for Texas A&M, on Friday played in his first Major League game in Texas since 2008 in Arlington.

"It's fun getting a chance to see everyone," Ruggiano said prior to the game. "Usually during the season, you don't get to see the whole family."

Ruggiano is an Austin, Texas, native

• With the exception of their annual series against Florida, Friday's game marked the first time in their history the Rays played in a National League park in consecutive years. Tampa Bay also traveled to Houston in May 2010.

• Tampa Bay starters have posted a 1.43 ERA in their past seven games.

Astros: Pence returns
• After missing five games with a sprained elbow he suffered on June 17 against the Dodgers, Hunter Pence returned to the Astros' lineup Friday, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Pence, who hit third, said prior to the game was was excited to get back in there. So, too, was his manager.

"Hunter swung the bat well during batting practice on Wednesday up in Arlington," Astros skipper Brad Mills said Friday. "He came in and did a little work [Thursday], and today he says he feels good. Obviously, we're thrilled to get him back into the lineup."

• Matt Downs has reached base safely in nine of his past 12 pinch-hit appearances and is hitting .389 (7-for-18) on the season in that role.

Worth noting
• Saturday will be Davis' 50th career start. The 25-year-old right-hander is 20-17 with a 4.17 in his career.

• Tampa Bay pitchers are 0-for-18 with 13 strikeouts at the plate this season.

• The Rays are 24-16 on the road this season, winning eight of their last 11.

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