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TB@OAK: Gray blanks Rays over 6 2/3 innings

With the A's taking two of three from the Rangers, including Wednesday's decisive 11-4 triumph, they have reclaimed a share of first place in the American League West.

Oakland was three games back last Thursday, but has won five of six since to draw even with Texas.

With the Astros coming to town Thursday for a four-game set, it's a perfect opportunity for manager Bob Melvin's club to continue its chase for a second straight division title.

A series-opening win over the Astros would move the A's a half-game ahead of the Rangers, who are off Thursday before opening a three-game set Friday against the Angels in Anaheim.

Melvin has said multiple times he has little interest in the Wild Card, and he will send rookie Sonny Gray to the mound in hopes of continuing the club's dominance against the Astros.

Oakland is 12-3 against Houston, including three three-game sweeps.

For Gray, it marks his fourth start at home, and it will be his second against the Astros. The 24-year-old right-hander is 2-0 with 0.83 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings at home, and the youngster has had no problem adjusting to O.co Coliseum.

"The fans are great here," said Gray, who shut out the Rays over six-plus innings in his last start. "I love pitching at home. I think in the fourth inning, I had two men on and you could tell that everyone really gets behind you and helps you get that last hitter. It's nice to get that little kick."

"He's wise beyond his years as far as ability and composure," catcher Stephen Vogt said of Gray after his last start. "He doesn't get rattled by anything. He doesn't get rattled in the moment. You take your average 23-year-old and have a start like he did in Baltimore and then bounce back like tonight, that shows his maturity and that shows his composure and his ability to make adjustments."

While the A's will look to take advantage of the matchup, the Astros' 28-43 record in games decided by one or two runs has manager Bo Porter happy with how is young team has competed this season.

"I could not be more proud of them and how they carried out that mission throughout the course of the year," Porter said. "Many people could look at the number of losses or look at the amount of failure we have experienced as a ballclub. Some people will take it in. That's not going to happen with this group. It's not going to happen under my watch or the rest of the staff."

Houston will start 25-year-old rookie Brad Peacock, who's struggled over his past two starts. Peacock has allowed nine earned runs over 10 1/3 innings, including five of those vs. the Mariners in four-plus innings.

"I don't think I threw one changeup for a strike," Peacock said. "I need to do a better job of that. I felt good the first three innings, and then I don't know what happened, to tell you the truth. I'll fix it. I'll be ready for next time."

A's: No timetable for Reddick
• Despite progress in rehabbing his sprained right wrist, A's outfielder Josh Reddick is no closer to taking batting practice on the field.

"He feels good," Melvin said Wednesday. "As far as what he's doing in the cage, he's had no problems with it, with soft toss and tee work. When the training staff is comfortable letting him take batting practice on the field, we'll know more."

Reddick is eligible to be reinstated from the disabled list Tuesday, but until he takes BP, an actual timetable for his return can't be made.

While the 26-year-old insists he'll be ready by then, the A's will continue to rotate Brandon Moss and Michael choice in his spot.

Moss in particular has no problems with the adjustment, coming off AL Player of the Week honors.

Astros: Porter still teaching his young club
• Houston shortstop Jonathan Villar was pulled from Tuesday's game against Minnesota after he unsuccessfully tried to stretch a single into a double with his club down, 4-1.

Villar was reinstated for Wednesday's series finale and scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

The move was part of a season-long process for Porter in teaching his young team the right way to play.

"The statement was made [Tuesday] night when he got pulled out of the game, and that conversation that followed the action was more so for him to understand exactly why, and moving forward I believe that he will receive it the right way," Porter said.

Houston's skipper wanted to stress to Villar that there's a time and a place for that type of baserunning, but at the same time, he doesn't want to suppress his rookie's aggressiveness.

Tuesday's decision was all part of the learning process for the Majors' youngest club.

"All of these things are going to help us be a better baseball team as we move forward," Porter said. "As a young player that's aggressive, there's going to be things which happened throughout the course of the game that sometimes it may warrant a conversation during the game or may warrant a conversation after the game."

Worth noting
• Thursday's contest is the 14th game of a stretch of 20 games in 20 days for the Astros. They are 5-8 in that stretch.

• Peacock will be making his third start this season opposite his former organization. The A's traded the rookie right-hander on Feb. 4, 2013, along with Chris Carter and Max Stassi, in exchange for Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez. Peacock is 0-1 with a 5.19 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings this season against his old team.

• Oakland started the season going 13-3 against AL West teams, but is just 21-23 since May 10. The A's finish their season almost exclusively against their division, minus seven games against the Twins.

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