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Rocky start for Wright as Astros skid

August 8, 2010 Comments off

MILWAUKEE — What a difference a week made for the Astros and Wesley Wright.

Coming to Milwaukee, the Astros had hopes of building another winning streak and, with a sweep, moving into third place in the National League Central.

Three days later, Houston was the team that was swept, and with four straight losses, the Astros head home on a low note after an 11-6 defeat at the hands of the Brewers on Sunday.

Just a week removed from earning his first Major League win as a starter over the very same Brewers team, Wright had no such luck at Miller Park. Wright lasted just 2 1/3 innings, surrendering seven runs on five hits and four walks.

“Execution,” Wright said of the difference from his last start. “I really struggled from the first inning on to get on top of the ball and drive it down in the zone. I was behind from the start, and they were able to get some big hits with guys in scoring position.”

A week earlier, Wright went seven strong at Minute Maid Park, giving up just two runs on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts. Wright did not allow a run until the sixth and reached career highs in innings and strikeouts.

In that game, the Brewers seemed unable to make the necessary adjustments against the 25-year-old lefty. On Sunday, it was Wright who couldn’t adjust.

“He threw so well last week against them, and you’d always like to see a guy be able to build on a good performance,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “They didn’t have to worry about adjustments. The ball seemed to be high arm side, and he was having trouble getting balls back down in. Those adjustments were tough.”

After the Astros opened with two runs on four hits in the first, Wright gave up four runs before recording a second out, as the Brewers’ first five batters reached base.

“Every game is different,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “You can’t just write one guy out there and figure he is going to do what he did in the game before.”

The Brewers had another four-run inning in the third, sparked by a trio of Brewers rookies, as Wright walked the first two batters of the inning before recording an out.

After a two-run double to left-center off the bat of Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers’ rookie center fielder, Wright’s day was done. Nelson Figueroa came on and surrendered a single and double to Alcides Escobar and Jonathan Lucroy, respectively, before ending the inning with a pair of strikeouts.

An inning later, a Casey McGehee three-run home run into the Brewers’ bullpen in left off Gustavo Chacin put an exclamation point on Milwaukee’s big day.

Most frustrating for Wright was the fact that Gallardo, like Wright, didn’t seem to have his best stuff in the series finale. But after tossing an impressive second inning, Wright said he “wasn’t able to get the ball rolling,” and keep the Astros in the game.

For Gallardo, who improved to 11-5 on the season, after giving up four runs on eight hits and one walk against seven strikeouts, all that mattered was the victory.

“Any time I do what I was supposed to, which is get the team a win, it’s always a plus,” Gallardo said. “I gave up a couple of [runs] there in the first inning, but our hitters came back with a four-spot.

“After that, it’s about staying with the lead and not returning it the other way.”

Offensively, the Astros continued to swing the bats well, just not quite as well — or efficiently — as the Brewers. After sitting out Saturday due to a sore right foot, center fielder Michael Bourn put together a 3-for-5 game with two runs, two RBIs and a double.

A two-run single in the fourth by Bourn cut the Brewers’ lead to 8-4 at the time, and a pair of back-to-back doubles by Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee leading off the eighth gave the Astros their fifth run. Lee and second baseman Jeff Keppinger joined Bourn with two RBIs.

On a weekend when so many things didn’t go the Astros’ way, the six-run output was one of the few bright spots.

“There’s no doubt,” Mills said when asked whether the offense was nice to see. “[Bourn’s] three hits with some RBIs after sitting out last night — and he’s got that sore foot from when he was hit in St. Louis — that was nice to see. Carlos, it’s nice to see him get some hits as well.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Astros beat 8/8

August 8, 2010 Comments off

Keppinger moves to third spot in lineup

MILWAUKEE — With the way Jeff Keppinger has been hitting this season, his manager said he would be comfortable batting him just about anywhere in the lineup.

Anywhere included the No. 3 spot on Sunday as Astros manager Brad Mills shook up his lineup a bit in the series finale with the Brewers.

“I like Hunter [Pence] behind the guys who are getting on base,” Mills said. “Hunter seems to find some way to get hits. It might not be the prettiest thing all the time, but he finds ways to get hits.”

Keppinger, along with Michael Bourn and Angel Sanchez, has been as consistent as anyone in the Houston lineup when it comes to getting on base. Entering the game Sunday, Keppinger, Sanchez and Bourn had on-base percentages of .355, .353 and .328, respectively.

Only rookies Brett Wallace (.409) and Chris Johnson (.383) had higher on-base percentages than Keppinger. But with the inexperience of Wallace and Johnson, the manager preferred them in the No. 6 and No. 7 spots.

“He’ll do a good job in any spot,” Mills said of Keppinger. “He continues to get on and have good at-bats. If we can get that guy hitting in front of Hunter, we’ll be all right.”

Sanchez’s bunt attempt earns Mills’ praise

MILWAUKEE — With a runner on and one out in the seventh on Saturday, rookie shortstop Angel Sanchez laid down a bunt toward third base that looked like a sure base hit.

Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf had other ideas, though, as he made a spectacular defensive play for the out, which later earned Wolf the night’s top “Web Gem” on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”

Despite the outcome, manager Brad Mills praised the decision of Sanchez.

“Angel did a good job of giving it a shot there to get the inning going,” Mills said. “It was a good time to do it.”

Sanchez has been impressive since he was acquired from the Red Sox, solidifying the shortstop position in the absence of Tommy Manzella and Geoff Blum.

Most impressive to his manager, though, has been his comfort level with just doing what he’s capable of and not trying to do more than that.

“That’s what he does, he stays in his lane,” Mills said. “That’s all he has to do. When guys try to do more than they can do or they get out of their lane, sometimes you don’t know what to expect. It’s nice if you can pencil a guy in and you know what to expect.

“He’s going to have some good at-bats. He’s going to be able to move runners, he’s going to drive some guys in at times. That’s huge.”

Astros hope younger lineup helps future

MILWAUKEE — When the Astros opened the season, they had question marks all over the field, except the outfield. Looking at Sunday’s lineup, the outfield remained the same as Opening Day, and the rest was far from it.

Every infield position had a different starter Sunday than the Astros had for the first game of the season. With that in mind, manager Brad Mills hoped the end of this season would make for a better start to the next.

“That’s the biggest thing about being able to play young guys at the end of the season,” Mills said. “So you’re able to answer questions about them going into the following year, because you can’t always find out that many answers in Spring Training.”

That difference between Spring Training and the regular season is one reason Mills is an advocate for bringing up Minor League players and playing a younger lineup when the roster can be expanded in September.

Although he acknowledged that September is not exactly like the first five months of the season, Mills still thinks experience in the season’s final month is more valuable than Spring Training.

“The season is a different animal,” Mills said. “[September] is different, but at the same time it’s closer to it than Spring Training, with the fans in the stands and the times of day and the travel. It might not be the same, but it’s as close as you’re going to be able to get. So you can still answer some questions because of that.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.