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WSH@HOU: Cosart strikes out six over 5 1/3 innings

Brad Ausmus spent more than half of his 18-year catching career in Houston. He was one of the team leaders during the 2005 World Series run and caught more games than anyone else in franchise history. For those reasons, he will always consider himself an Astro, which makes this week's four-game series at Comerica Park a reunion of sorts for him.

That said, he's seven years, a rebuilding project and an ownership change separated from the team.

"When I think of my playing career, I'll think of myself with a Houston Astros uniform, just because I spent the bulk of my career there," Ausmus said. "But obviously, none of the players are left, really even the front office is all different. It'll be a lot more meaningful for Dave Clark and J.D. Martinez."

Clark was on the Astros coaching staff for the past five seasons before parting ways at year's end. Martinez was an Astro as recently as late March before the Astros released him.

"It's just funny how it plays out," Martinez said. "I want to go in there and try not to get caught up in the emotions, just play the game like I've been doing."

Martinez knows most of that roster. He also knows the struggles his ex-teammates are going through, having been there with them for the previous three years. His past few weeks with the Tigers have given him a feeling of life on the other end of the standings.

Just over a month after he was a man without a role on the Astros, he's a role player on a team that enters this series with the best record in the American League and a five-game winning streak. Yet as much as it would seem like a rush of pressure for a team with World Series expectations, Martinez says it feels like the opposite.

"It's a lot different feeling," Martinez said. "When you're winning, everything's fun. When you're losing, everyone's pressing. It's hard to play that way. You have to play the game relaxed, and on this team you have that. Everyone knows their job, what they're going to do. It's just fun."

He realizes the irony in that. His explanation sounds like something former Tigers manager Jim Leyland emphasized many times: A good lineup has players picking each other up when they don't come through, and players confident in that happening.

"You want to win and you're scared that if you don't get a base hit, you're not going to win," Martinez said. "Here, I want to get [runs] in obviously, but you're not as nervous. There's so many good players that you know that if you don't, it's not the end of the world. There's so many good players here that people can pick you up, pick up your slack."

That might help explain why Martinez has proven to be a fit in Detroit. Every Tigers starting player had at least one hit in each game of their three-game series sweep at Kansas City over the weekend. The bottom of Detroit's lineup, once a weakness, has become a strength over the course of their five-game winning streak.

"The last three games, as a group, there wasn't one hole in their lineup you could count on getting an out from," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They were all swinging the bats extremely well."

That's the lineup the Astros must try to contain. Houston is coming off a season-long 11-day homestand, when it went 3-6 in three series.

The Astros went 1-6 vs. Detroit last season in the series' first season as an intraleague matchup.

Astros: Cosart gets the start
Jarred Cosart gets the ball for Houston, as the rotation turns over. It could be the final turn through the rotation before ace Scott Feldman returns from the disabled list. He could be back as soon as Friday, but even that would be too late for this series.

Cosart's struggled to find his footing this season as the No. 2 starter, but he has suffered some tough luck as well. He's winless in his last five starts, including three no-decisions, but he has left each of his three no-decisions with the lead. He has tossed six-plus innings of two-run ball in each of his last two starts.

"I think all of our guys know what we expect of them out there," Astros manager Bo Porter said, "and Jarred's going to throw hard for us. We're not worrying about him when we send him out."

Tigers: Avila catching fire at the plate
While Tigers catcher Alex Avila struggled through a season-opening slump, he kept saying he felt confident at the plate, believing in his at-bats. His recent results seem to be reflecting that.

He went 2-for-8 in two starts at Kansas City over the weekend, but both hits were two-run home runs driven to center field. He's batting 11-for-39 with four doubles, two homers and six RBIs since mid-April. While his strikeout rate remains high -- he has fanned 15 times in that stretch -- his batting average on balls put in play is nearing .400.

"My swing feels good," Avila said. "It's just a matter of swinging at good pitches."

Worth noting
• Former University of Michigan basketball All-American Nic Stauskas is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Monday's series opener. His Michigan teammate, Jordan Morgan, did the honors before a Tigers game last homestand.

• Miguel Cabrera enters Monday with a 10-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .378 (17-for-45).

• Torii Hunter heads into the series with an 11-game hitting streak, batting .408 (20-for-49) in that stretch.

• Reliever Luke Putkonen, on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation, is expected to go on a minor-league rehab assignment Monday after throwing a 35-pitch side session Sunday morning in Kansas City. The Tigers want to make sure Putkonen's arm feels fine before finalizing the assignment. With Triple-A Toledo on the road until next weekend, Putkonen could be sent to Class A West Michigan or Double-A Erie, both of which are at home Monday night.

• The Astros recalled former Tigers reliever Darin Downs on Sunday. The 29-year-old left-hander pitched parts of the past two seasons in Detroit before the Astros claimed him off waivers last November.

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