Happ strong, but bats falter in loss vs. Reds

Happ strong, but bats falter in loss vs. Reds

Happ strong, but bats falter in loss vs. Reds
HOUSTON -- There was a semblance of baseball normalcy at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, which was a welcome sight for an Astros team that had been victimized by four games of high-scoring, pinball baseball at Coors Field in Denver.

J.A. Happ delivered a much-needed quality start for an Astros rotation that had been battered by the Rockies, but Houston's offense fell into a post-Mile High slumber.

Mike Leake upstaged Happ by allowing just one run and four hits while striking out seven batters in seven innings to send the first-place Reds to a 4-1 win over the Astros, whose season-high losing streak hit seven games.

A week after creeping to within a game of .500, the Astros are a season-low eight games under at 22-30.

"Everybody knows what's going on and how many we've lost and things like that," Astros third baseman Chris Johnson said. "It's not fun, especially since we were on a little bit of a run there. But we've got to turn it around somehow. We can't dwell on it and let it go downhill."

After scoring 23 runs and bashing out 55 hits in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies, The Astros were held to five singles on Friday. The only run they scored came on a double play ball off the bat of Carlos Lee, which helped fizzle out a promising rally in the sixth.

Lee hit into another double play in the eighth inning and had to be helped from the field after suffering a strained left hamstring.

"We couldn't put together anything," said Lee, who was 1-for-4. "[Leake] was pitching pretty good on the corners and with the soft stuff. He pitched pretty good. Happ pitched pretty good, and it was a tough loss for him."

Happ threw a season-high seven innings, allowing five hits and three runs while striking out seven batters. He has given the Astros quality starts in eight of his last 11 outings, but has lost two starts in a row. Happ got two quick outs to start the game and nearly struck out Joey Votto on an 0-2 pitch for out No. 3 before he managed a single.

Brandon Phillips followed with a double to score Votto from first, and Jay Bruce roped a single to right to score Phillips and cap a two-out rally that put Cincinnati ahead, 2-0.

"Anytime you can score a few quick runs, it's huge, especially against Happ," said Bruce, who homered off reliever Wesley Wright in the ninth. "He's got good stuff. I don't care what anyone says. This isn't an easy team. They're not just going to come out and lay down for you. They've got some scrappy guys, guys who are trying to earn some spots, and they're playing well. You definitely can't sleep on them."

In his last four starts, Happ is 2-2 with a 2.13 ERA, 26 hits allowed and 27 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. He needed only 101 pitches to complete seven innings in a promising sign of efficiency from him.

"I thought I made some good pitches and then I didn't make a few," he said. "I guess sometimes there's games where you really have no room for error. Those are tough ones, and unfortunately that kind of was one tonight. They showed why they're in first place. They did what it took to win and did some little things."

One of the little things led to a Reds run in the third inning. Happ lost Zack Cozart to a lead-off walk in the inning, and Cozart alertly took second base on a fly ball to center field, sliding safely into the bag just ahead of the throw from Jordan Schafer. Votto scored him on an RBI single.

"He did a good job of tagging up and getting to second base and was able to score on that base hit," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "That was a big run for them."

The Astros' best chance to score in bunches came in the second when they loaded the bases after one out, but Chris Snyder bounced into a fielder's choice that cut down a potential run at the plate, and Happ struck out to end the inning.

Leake retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced before Jose Altuve singled and scored in the sixth on a double play grounder off the bat of Lee.

"The bases were loaded and we weren't able to get anything with one out and the fifth inning when we did get our run, but we had first and third with nobody out and you'd like to keep that inning going," Mills said.

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