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Chris Kunitz Jersey
, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays were a wobbly 34-40
on June 20, but have pitched their way back to .500 mostly without true starting

On Saturday, five relievers combined to outduel Justin Verlander in a 5-2
victory, and as the series wraps up Sunday, the Rays are on even footing with
the pitching-dominant Houston Astros on the mound.

“It’s pretty remarkable what they’ve strung together here as of late, and
today was no different,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after Saturday’s win.

The Rays turn to their best starter of the first half in Blake Snell, who
looks to be a first-time All-Star with a 10-4 record and a 2.31 ERA.

Snell has taken only one loss in his last eight starts Luke
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, and was superb against the Astros on June 19,
throwing seven innings and holding a potent lineup to one run and three hits in
a 2-1 victory. He managed to survive seven walks, including three in one
scoreless inning, getting key double plays to work his way out of

In his last seven starts, Snell has a 1.27 ERA. He is 1-1 with a 5.21 ERA in
four career starts against Houston.

The Rays, who have been above .500 for only three days all season, face a
stiff challenge Sunday in Astros right-hander Charlie Morton.

Morton (10-1, 2.54) hopes to continue a career resurrection since coming to
Houston. Before arriving ,
he was 46-71 in his career. Since joining the Astros, he’s 24-8 in two seasons
with a career-low ERA this year and a career-best strikeout rate of 11.5 per
nine innings.

Morton is 3-0 in his last four games, with three earned runs allowed in his
last 19 innings and none in his last two starts. He faced the Rays on June 20
and dominated, throwing six innings and holding Tampa Bay to two hits and one
unearned run. He was even better in his last start, holding Toronto scoreless in
seven innings while striking out 13, one off his season and career high.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch doesn’t like playing at Tropicanaa Field, and his
team’s bats have been stifled in all three games, including Thursday’s 1-0
victory. The Astros have lost eight games this season with Verlander
starting Authentic
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, and in six of those losses, they’ve scored a
total of five runs.

“I hate the results at this ballpark, if you look back at what we’ve done,”
Hinch said. “Those are facts. It is what it is. We have another game (Sunday).
We need to figure it out before then.”

Astros standout Alex Bregman said the stadium has given Houston problems, but
some of the credit should go to Rays pitchers, who have given them fits this

“I don’t know if it’s the ballpark. I think they just have a good staff,”
Bregman said. “They have been playing really good ball as of late.”

Latest on the NFL concussion settlement (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

Lawyers representing former NFL players in their concussion claims estimate
payouts from the settlement with the league will likely reach $1.4 billion.

The lawyers filed a status update Wednesday saying an actuary estimates the
approved payouts to date and the number of players who had filed to be a part of
the settlement are outpacing any previous estimate. The actuary says
participation rates are 21 percent higher than estimated when the settlement was

The $400 million increase in estimated payout came after a judge Wednesday
denied for now a request from the league to appoint a special investigator to
look into what the league said was extensive fraudulent claims against the
settlement fund.

Judge Anita Brody says, as of now Luke
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, the audit process seems to be appropriately
ferreting out and denying those claims.

3:40 p.m.

A federal judge has denied a request from the NFL to appoint a special
investigator to look into what the league says is extensive fraudulent claims on
the $1 billion concussion settlement.

Judge Anita Brody wrote in her ruling Wednesday that the league’s attorneys
have demonstrated that there is ”sufficient evidence of probable fraud to
warrant serious concern.” Brody says the already in place special master and
claims administrator have effectively ferreted out those claims.

The league cited an independent study it said found more than 400 claims had
been recommended for denial based on evidence of fraud by attorneys, doctors and
former players attempting to cheat the program.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers say they support Brody’s decision, noting more than $485
million has already been approved for valid claims.

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