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HOU@BAL: Oberholtzer shuts down O's for first MLB win

Both the Red Sox and the Astros head to Houston from afar to begin a three-game set Monday at Minute Maid Park.

After wrapping up a 5-2 homestand (and 13 of 16 games at home out of the All-Star break) with a win against Arizona on Sunday, the Sox will play 16 of their next 19 on the road.

It is the opposite story for the Astros, who are finally home after a brutal 11-day, 10-game road outing. Houston went 2-8 on the trip, getting swept by the Twins in Minnesota over the weekend to finish it.

Boston swept the Astros in four games at Fenway Park during April, and the visit to Minute Maid is the Red Sox's first since Houston moved to the American League.

With the Sox in the thick of another playoff race, they could use a repeat performance against the Astros. Starting pitcher John Lackey would sure like one.

He held Houston to five hits and one run over six innings for his first win of the season back in April, and he enters Monday with a strong month behind him.

Lackey recorded four quality starts in a half-dozen July starts, making it into the seventh inning in all six while posting a 3.67 ERA. He was strong his last time out, getting a no-decision while allowing three runs over seven innings in a win against the Mariners.

The Red Sox won that game, 5-4, in 15 innings, capping another comeback win in a season full of them.

As the Astros' season has floundered the last six weeks, holding on to a lead has seemed impossible at times.

But a bright spot for Houston over the last week came behind Monday's starter, Brett Oberholtzer, who put the bullpen in a no-pressure situation.

On Wednesday in his first Major League start, he limited the Orioles to three singles over seven scoreless frames as the Astros posted 11 runs in a romp.

The team has put him in the rotation for now in place of the traded Bud Norris, and Monday marks his first home start.

"I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to it," Oberholtzer said. "I'm going to pitch to my strengths and see what their weaknesses and strengths are. That's what pitching is about, making pitches at the right time. For me, it's keeping speedy guys off base and making the power guys hit weak contact and try to eat up innings."

Oberholtzer came up through the Braves' system as a starter and remained a starter after being traded to the Astros, so a chance to pitch in the rotation in the big leagues is something he does not take lightly.

"It's everything I asked for," he said. "With this organization, there's no easy steps to the big leagues. You've got a lot of young talent that's pushing us. I see it, and hopefully everyone else does and knows there's no guarantees. For me, it's work hard day in and day out and earn an opportunity and take advantage of it. It's going out there and seizing the moment and keep pitching and hopefully get our team the win."

Astros: Grossman back at leadoff
Given how well he has swung the bat since he was called up from the Minor Leagues on July 27, outfielder Robbie Grossman was moved back into the leadoff spot in the lineup for Sunday's series finale against the Twins at Target Field. He went 2-for-5 and scored a run.

Grossman is now on a 12-for-25 streak with a home run, three walks and two stolen bases since he was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"I think it more has to do with the way Grossman has been swinging the bat," manager Bo Porter said before Sunday's game. "Once you go through the lineup once, it's almost like [Jonathan] Villar, Grossman and [Jose] Altuve are hitting 1-2-3."

Grossman spent about a month with the Astros earlier this year and hit .198 in 111 at-bats in that span while batting mostly leadoff. For the season, Grossman is hitting .215 in the leadoff spot and .381 in the ninth spot.

Red Sox: Nava on paternity leave
The Red Sox will be without outfielder Daniel Nava during the Houston series, as he will not travel with the team because his wife is scheduled to deliver the couple's first child.

Nava, who has been placed on the paternity leave list, will rejoin the Sox on Thursday for the start of a four-game series in Kansas City.

The Red Sox are allowed to fill that roster spot, and manager John Farrell said the team would most likely use it for a pitcher.

This could allow right-hander Brandon Workman, who is transitioning to the bullpen and ranked the club's No. 11 prospect by, to be called back up.

Worth noting
• Boston is 11-2 all-time against the Astros.

• Houston has not won back-to-back games since June 15-16 against the White Sox, a span of 40 games. The Astros are 10-30 during that stretch.

• Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright will make his first career start Tuesday against the Astros. Comments