Clutch hitting eludes Astros in loss to Reds

Clutch hitting eludes Astros in loss to Reds

Clutch hitting eludes Astros in loss to Reds
HOUSTON -- If nothing else, you have to give Astros manager Brad Mills credit for finding the silver lining in even the darkest clouds.

Mills has always chosen to focus on the positive during his nearly three years as manager in Houston, and that's getting harder by the day as the losses pile up. The Astros are struggling as they trade away veteran players and continue to rebuild, and they're taking their lumps on the field.

The Astros provided nothing more than a speed bump Monday night for the streaking Reds, who bashed out 17 hits -- 12 singles -- to send Houston to its seventh consecutive loss and 20th in their past 22 games, 8-3, at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros had their typical offensive struggles, stranding 13 runners and going 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-4 with the bases loaded. Houston is batting a Major League-worst .151 with runners in scoring position this year.

"The second, fourth and fifth inning, we left the bases loaded," Mills said. "It seems like a lot of nights, I come in and say, 'You know, if we'd gotten that one big hit ...' And it's coming. It's going to come at some point. But at least we got those opportunities."

Third baseman Chris Johnson, batting cleanup for the second game in a row, did most of the offensive damage for the Astros, going 4-for-5 with an RBI to tie a career high for hits in a game. Nine of the Astros' 11 hits were singles, though, which compounds their offensive problems.

"First of all, we want to win the game," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter how many hits I get if we don't get a win. We try not to believe in personal goals around here and just try to turn this thing around. I'd rather take an 0-for for a win."

The Reds are 9-2 since the All-Star break and have won 33 of their last 47 games against the Astros, but that doesn't mean Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker doesn't have respect for a Houston team that's lost 40 of its last 52 games.

"Their record isn't good right now but they never quit," he said. "You can see, they kept fighting and fighting and we had to add on some more runs and get out of some tough jams and got the win."

Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez, who's been the subject of trade speculation, had a quality start in allowing seven hits and three runs in six innings, but he still suffered his third consecutive loss. Rodriguez admitted trying to block out trade rumors is difficult.

"For me, I have been with this organization for a long time, so if the team trades me, it's my first time," said Rodriguez, the lone holdover from the 2005 World Series team. "So it's hard for me."

Rodriguez (7-9) certainly pitched well enough to keep the Astros in the game, but the Reds fattened the cat against Houston's bullpen. The Reds scored twice in the seventh against Wilton Lopez and Wesley Wright, and three times in the eighth against Enerio Del Rosario to put the game out of reach.

Astros pitchers have a 10.09 ERA and opponents are hitting .377 against them in the past four games.

"We had a chance to keep it there," Mills said. "You try to put the guys in those positions to get through it and give us an opportunity to get into the last couple innings to maybe get within striking distance."

Rodriguez, who's 0-for-37 at the plate this year, came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the second and fourth innings against Reds starter Mat Latos (8-3) and popped out both times.

The Astros cut the lead to 3-2 in the fifth. Jose Altuve led off the inning with a double and went to third on Marwin Gonzalez's double, and both scored -- Altuve on Scott Moore's grounder and Gonzalez on Johnson's single.

"I'm just feeling comfortable at the plate," Johnson said. "It's not that I'm more comfortable in the four-hole, it's just something I'm feeling good at the plate right now and just trying to slow the ball down, be short to the ball and not try to do too much. I've been able to get some hits out of it."

Latos went five innings to improve to 4-1 with a 3.86 ERA against Houston. The Astros did push across a run with the bases loaded in the eighth when Gonzalez scored Chris Snyder with a fielder's choice, but the big hit eluded them once again.

"We're going to keep going," Johnson said. "You can't quit. Nobody's going to come in here and quit. We'll come in here tomorrow and try to get better than we are today, so that's our goal for tomorrow."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for 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.