Homers get the best of Happ and Astros

Homers get the best of Happ and Astros

Homers get the best of Happ and Astros
HOUSTON -- Like many of his teammates, Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez can't quite identify why his team is struggling so mightily. You could certainly point to an offense that is finding it increasingly difficult to score runs, but it's not like the pitching has been sharp either.

Martinez and the Astros are caught in a mind-boggling slump that has seen them fall in the standings, winding up in last place in the National League Central after losing to the Brewers, 7-1, on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros' ninth consecutive loss -- their longest losing streak since dropping nine in a row from Sept. 13-22, 2009 -- has earned them the distinction of having the worst record in baseball at 32-52. Coming off an 0-7 road trip, the Astros couldn't take advantage of the comforts of home.

"We've got to make a change, we've got to do something," Martinez said.

Houston's punchless offense, which is hitting .201 during the losing streak, managed only one run on a solo homer by Scott Moore in the first inning. The Brewers clubbed three homers off starting pitcher J.A. Happ, who has allowed a team-high 17 homers this year.

"I wanted to be the guy to get us over it today and we fell behind early," Happ said. "It wasn't good, but it was just a matter of making some pitches and then I didn't, and I threw some balls over the heart of the plate and it cost us tonight."

Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo held Houston to four hits and one run in six innings to improve to 11-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 13 career starts against the Astros.

"They made me work today," Gallardo said. "It for sure wasn't an easy game. They scored one run, but I was giving it all I had every pitch. They were taking some pretty good pitches, fouling off some good pitches. It was a lot of hard work."

Things aren't going to get any easier for the Astros on Saturday against Zack Greinke, who is 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA in four career starts against Houston. But the Astros understand the importance of finding a way to grab a win and not let the losing streak carry into the All-Star Break.

"You definitely don't," first baseman Chris Johnson said. "We'd like to get a 'W' on the board these next two days, for sure. I can't stress how important that will be."

Astros manager Brad Mills held a meeting before the game with the players to try and emphasize the importance of playing hard.

"The guys came out and squared some balls up and we're going to continue to work on some things and try to stay aggressive the best we can," he said.

Norichika Aoki and Ryan Braun hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Happ had sent down 16 of 18 batters before giving up a long double to center to Corey Hart in the sixth and a two-run homer to right off the bat of a struggling Rickie Weeks. The Brewers led, 4-1.

"You never want to fall behind in the first inning, but I felt fine after that and felt like I was making pitches and the sixth and the seventh was the real issue there," Happ said. "We weren't going to win tonight with the two, but at least we're in the game and things could have turned out different."

Happ allowed three more runs in the seventh inning to allow the Brewers to take a 7-1 lead. Happ pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up nine hits, seven earned runs and three homers, which tied a career high accomplished twice previously with the Phillies.

The seven earned runs allowed by Happ were one shy of his career high.

"His last time out against these guys here he shut them out [for six innings on May 17] and was throwing the ball so well that we were kind of looking forward to him coming through with that again tonight," Mills said. "Those two home runs in the first kind of got him behind the eight-ball a little bit, but he came back and threw the ball extremely well again until the sixth."

Happ was asked if the club's offensive struggles are making it difficult on the pitchers.

"I know we're battling and doing what we can do," he said. "I'm not going to comment on that."

The Astros have been outscored, 51-19, during the losing streak and outhit, 86-57. It's certainly wearing on every corner of the clubhouse, and the club is desperately searching for answers as it approaches the All-Star break.

"After you lose two in a row, you're feeling the pressure to win," Martinez said. "It [stinks], to be honest with you. We're just all trying to stay positive right now, we're trying to get something going."

Brian McTaggart is a 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.