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STL@LAA: Wainwright hurls eight dominant frames

Once division rivals and now likely facing off for the last time in three years.

That's the situation facing the Cardinals and Astros, who open a two-game series Tuesday in St. Louis, with Houston's move to the American League making this the rivalry's final renewal for some time.

The two teams tangled in Houston last month, with the teams splitting a pair of games.

"You take series like this for granted sometimes," said manager Mike Matheny. "Being in Houston was normal to us, and facing the Cardinals is something they were used to. They're a comfortable opponent."

The situation's slightly different this time around, with St. Louis no longer alone atop the National League Central and the Astros struggling mightily.

The surging Pirates are tied with the Cardinals, and Houston has lost eight of 10 since beating St. Louis on June 26.

Looking to help the Cards keep pace is Adam Wainwright, who will make his team-leading 19th start. Matheny decided to flip Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright in the rotation to get Wainwright another start before the All-Star break and limit his possible workload in the All-Star Game.

"The first thought is it's cool to pitch in the [All-Star] game, obviously," Wainwright said. "But I think what's more important is what's going on inside this clubhouse and can I help the team in that capacity? I think I can and I think our staff has trust in me to do that as well. Two more starts before the break gives us a good chance to win those games.

"Would I rather have two more starts and help this team try to win two more games, or pitch the seventh inning? I'm taking the two games every time."

Wainwright was roughed up a bit his last time out, surrendering four runs and seven hits over eight innings in a 6-5 loss to the Angels. He got a no-decision.

Wainwright's counterpart is Houston righty Bud Norris, who is hoping to overcome his road blues this year.

Norris has an ERA of 5.02 in seven away starts this season, going 2-4 in those outings. But recent history is on his side, as his ERA since May 21 is 2.29, second only to Bartolo Colon among American League starters.

"Bud has been absolutely outstanding for us," Astros manager Bo Porter said after the righty's last start, a seven-inning, one-run performance against Tampa Bay. "I think he's throwing probably the best he has all season. He's our No. 1 guy and pitched like an ace."

Norris has faced the Cardinals more than any other team in his career, sporting a 2.74 ERA against St. Louis. That's second all-time among active pitchers with at least 10 starts (Ted Lilly is tops with a 2.61 ERA against the Cards.)

Astros: Harrell out of starting role
Houston pitcher Lucas Harrell has been sent to the bullpen as he struggles with his fastball command, according to Porter.

Harrell was shelled for seven earned runs on six walks against the Rangers his last time out, the fifth time he has allowed at least six runs this season.

"I want to see him take it in the right manner and really get back to him being the type of pitcher he was last year," Porter said. "I said to him, 'Look, for whatever reason, you're not pitching to your potential, so from an organizational standpoint, this is a decision that was made to try to get you back to being able to pitch to your potential."

Harrell had started a Major League-most 19 times prior to landing in the bullpen.

Cardinals: Good news for Molina
Yadier Molina and the Cardinals believe they have dodged a substantial setback, as an MRI exam taken on Molina's bothersome right knee revealed no structural damage. Rather, Molina has been diagnosed with knee inflammation, which the All-Star catcher hopes will subside with just a few days of rest.

Molina, who was unavailable for Sunday's series finale against Miami, said that he has been dealing with knee discomfort -- pain that he described as "like a knife, a pinching" -- for the last month. The pain was especially exaggerated when Molina ran the bases on Friday.

"That's what scared me," said Molina, whose position makes him susceptible to knee problems. "But I'm glad everything is all right."

He hopes to return to the lineup Tuesday against the Astros.

Worth noting
• The Astros are four days into a two-week stretch without a home game, spanning eight games and the All-star break next week.

• St. Louis is currently the only team in baseball with two double-digit winners in the rotation, as Lance Lynn and Wainwright each have 11 victories.

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