MLB Insiders: Houston Astros

The Pirates open a three-game series in Houston on Monday night. Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf will be on the mound for the Bucs. The Astros counter with lefty Wandy Rodriguez.

With baseball's worst record all to themselves, the Houston Astros have plenty of work to do in the next month to avoid the first 100-loss season in franchise history.

The Pittsburgh Pirates can certainly relate.

A win in Monday night's three-game series opener at Minute Maid Park would give Houston the same record through 135 games as the 2010 Pirates, who went on to a 105-loss season that was the franchise's worst in more than half a century.

The Astros (44-90) have lost at least 96 games six times, but they've never made it to 100.

Hitting triple digits in the loss column is almost inevitable this September, but the Astros aren't rolling over. Just a week after winning two of three against World Series champion San Francisco at home, Houston salvaged a four-game road split against the Giants with a 4-3, 11-inning win Sunday.

The Pirates (62-71) were in Houston's shoes at this time last season, just one game ahead of the Astros' current ugly pace through 134 games en route the franchise's worst finish since going 42-112 in 1952.

Now, after being in contention in the NL Central at the beginning of August, Pittsburgh is merely trying to finish strong and recover from a disastrous month. The Pirates have dropped 22 of 30 since being 1 1/2 games out of first place July 29, with Sunday's 7-4 loss in St. Louis leaving them 18 games behind division-leading Milwaukee.

It's unclear how much time Wandy Rodriguez (9-9, 3.41 ERA) has left in an Astros uniform, but he'll be in one at least another month. Colorado claimed the left-hander off waivers last week, but Houston ultimately pulled him back - for now.

They Astros have to hope he doesn't pitch over the final month like he did Wednesday against the team that showed interest in him. Rodriguez gave up six runs, 10 hits and four walks over six innings of a 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Rockies.

Rodriguez is 1-1 with a 5.30 ERA in three starts this season against the Pirates.

The Pirates will counter with Ross Ohlendorf (0-1, 7.24), who surely hopes his second start since April 8 is better than his first. Ohlendorf surrendered seven runs - four earned - and 11 hits over five innings of Tuesday's 11-4 loss to Milwaukee.

Ohlendorf is 0-6 with a 6.25 ERA in eight starts versus Houston.

Astros pitcher Bud Norris had been so eager to pitch against his hometown team, he wasn't quite sure how he'd handle it.

Norris made 63 major league starts before he finally got to take the mound against the Giants at AT&T Park, a place he'd attended dozens of games as a fan. He turned in seven innings that were mostly overpowering, getting a no-decision in a 4-3, 11-inning victory against the Giants on Sunday. The Giants managed two runs on three hits against Norris, walking once and striking out 10 times.

"It really didn't faze me," said Norris, who grew up a half-hour up the road in Novato, Calif. "I thought it would a little bit more. I felt good in the bullpen, and once I got out of the system, I was ready to go to work and was really locked in."

Norris attended San Marin High and started following the Giants back in the days they played at Candlestick. When the team moved downtown, he'd take the ferry down to catch the Giants games as often as possible.

"I came to a bunch," Norris said. "Back in the old days at Candlestick, I'd pay a $1 and go sit in the bleachers and sit with some buddies. I've been to a lot more games in this stadium -- probably 50. I was a big Giants fan growing up, and I'm proud of what they've done in the last year."

His favorite memories at the park?

"In high school, Barry Bonds was it," Norris said. "Being able to watch him do everything he did for this city was truly amazing. To be able to watch the whole home run chase on TV every night was really exciting. You tip your hat to the home run king."

Among those who had a tip of the hat for Norris on Sunday was Astros manager Brad Mills. With the Astros trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning, Mills reluctantly removed Norris for a pinch-hitter. Norris had thrown 96 pitches at that point -- including 22 during a two-run Giants rally in the seventh -- and regularly hit 95-96 mph with his fastball.

"He didn't want to come out of the game, but we had to try to get another run and tie the thing up," Mills said. "I didn't want him to come out. If we wouldn't have gotten to his spot, he was going to stay in. That's how good he was throwing."

Notes, Quotes

RHP David Carpenter picked up his first major league save Sunday, getting all three outs in the 11th inning of a 4-3 victory against the Giants. The outing started ominously for Carpenter, who hit a Aubrey Huff on the first pitch of the inning. A converted minor league catcher making his 23rd appearance in the majors, Carpenter retired the next three batters. "It was just a matter of keeping your wits about you, attacking," Carpenter said. "That's the No. 1 thing. You don't want to get in a defensive mode when you're pitching. It's a matter of staying aggressive with each pitch, whether it's the slider or the fastball."

2B Matt Downs got the start Sunday in place of slumping rookie Jose Altuve, who wound up scoring the winning run. Altuve entered the game in the ninth inning as pinch-hitter and wound up scoring the winning run on a one-out single by Downs, whose hit came a year and three days after the Astros claimed him from the Giants on waivers. "I don't play that up at all," Downs said. "I've got a lot of friends on the other side—a lot of great guys. It's just a big win, whether we're playing the Giants or Cubs or whoever we're playing when we get one late like that."

1B Carlos Lee had his second consecutive three-hit, two-double game before leaving in the ninth inning with a twisted right ankle. Lee, the first Astro to reach safely in seven consecutive plate appearances, is expected to be back in the lineup on Monday.

RHP Brett Myers turned in one of his best starts of the season Saturday, but it wasn't quite good enough to end his streak of 13 starts without a win. Myers, whose last win was a complete-game performance against the Dodgers on June 17, allowed one run on two hits in seven innings to get a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to the Giants. The franchise record for most consecutive starts without a win is 16, shared by Jose Lima (2001), Chris Holt (1997-1999) and Don Nottebart (1964-1965).

2B Jose Altuve, who went 4-for-25 on the first six games of the Astros' road trip to Colorado and San Francisco, started Sunday's game on the bench and ended it with a smile. He pinch-ran for Carlos Lee in the ninth, doubled off RH reliever Ramon Ramirez with one out in the 11th and scored the winning run on a single by Matt Downs, who had replaced him in the starting lineup.

CF Jordan Schafer played a key role in the 4-3 victory Sunday, scoring the first Astros' run and driving in the tying run in the eighth. Schafer led off the fourth against RHP Matt Cain with a walk, stole second and scored on a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. In the eighth, Schafer ended a nine-pitch at-bat against Cain with a two-out, run-scoring single to right.

3B Jimmy Paredes broke out of a 0-for-10 mini-slump with a vengeance. He went 3-for-4 and scored two runs.

By The Numbers: 7—Number of hits in 40 pinch-hit at-bats this season by Jason Michaels, who put the Astros ahead in the 10th inning Sunday with a double off LHP Jeremy Affeldt on an 0-2 pitch.

Quote To Note: "Unbelievable. He had his velocity, he was spotting up. Overall, he threw the ball better than I've ever seen him throw." —INF Matt Downs, on the seven-inning, three-hit, two-run, one-walk, 10-strikeout performance of RHP Bud Norris against the Giants on Sunday.

Medical Watch:

LHP Sergio Escalona (left elbow tendinitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 22. He could return as soon as he is eligible.

RHP Enerio Del Rosario (right shoulder strain) went on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 6. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Oklahoma City on Aug. 26.

RHP Brandon Lyon (right biceps tendinitis, partially torn right rotator cuff) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 14. He underwent season-ending surgery June 30, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on July 31.

RHP Alberto Arias (sore right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He threw to live hitters at extended spring training for the first time April 10. Arias felt another impingement in his shoulder April 15. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure June 3, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 29. He might resume throwing in August.

C Jason Castro (right knee surgery in March 2011) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 28. He was participating in baseball activities in late June, and he began training with the Astros' rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate on July 20. He is not expected back this season, GM Ed Wade said.


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