Astros confident bats will bounce back

McHugh pitches well enough to win, lacks run support

Astros confident bats will bounce back

ST. PETERSBURG -- The hitters might be pressing to be the guy who breaks the Astros out of a growing offensive funk. The pitchers might be pressing because there has been very little room for error because of the team's struggle to score runs.

The Astros, however, remain confident their offense will be able to regroup sooner rather than later after being held to five hits, including a solo homer by Colby Rasmus, in a 3-1 loss to the Rays in the series opener Friday night at Tropicana Field.

During the Astros' four-game losing streak, they're hitting .169 as a team with four extra-base hits, including three homers that have accounted for the only four runs scored during the skid.

"It's tough," manager A.J. Hinch said. "The runs and hits are hard to come by for us right now, and everybody sees it, and we know it and we're working hard to improve it. You can't ask your guys to have to be perfect. … Obviously our starters are throwing the ball well enough to have better outcomes for them. It's a team sport, and we'll all rally behind each other and try to figure out the solution tomorrow."

The good news for the Astros is ace Dallas Keuchel takes the ball Saturday, but Collin McHugh pitched well enough to win Friday. The right-hander held the Rays to three runs and four hits in seven innings, sending down 11 batters in a row during one stretch.

"It's a long season, and every team's going to go through stretches where it's tough to score runs, and every staff is going to go through stretches where it's tough to not give up runs," McHugh said. "I think good teams minimize when those roll around. That's what we're fighting to do. If we're not scoring runs, minimize as a pitching staff and keep our guys in the game as long as possible.

"With the club we have, we're never more than a swing or two away. It's the same thing tonight. If a couple guys get a big swing and late in the game, it's a completely different ballgame. We have all the confidence in the world in the guys in this clubhouse. Things will get better on both sides."

Rasmus homered to right field in the second to give the Astros a 1-0 lead, but after the Rays pushed a couple of runs across on a pair of groundouts in the sixth, Houston wasted a leadoff double by Luis Valbuena in the seventh. That's the Astros' only extra-base hit during their four-game losing streak that hasn't been a homer.

"Look, I'm not sure either side swung the bat particularly well tonight," Hinch said. "They scored two runs after getting two base hits without the ball leaving the infield. Obviously, we had to make some good defensive plays to keep it in the infield. It takes a big hit or sort of a breakout game in order for everybody to feel better about it where the pressure doesn't mount throughout the game. It can be a cruel league sometimes when you have a tough time scoring."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.