Norris strong for six innings, but 'pen falters

Norris strong for six innings, but 'pen falters

Norris strong for six innings, but 'pen falters
HOUSTON -- Bud Norris, having held the vaunted Reds offense scoreless through six innings Sunday afternoon, was left to answer the same kinds of questions he's dealt with for more than three months after the Astros' bullpen suffered an eighth-inning meltdown.

The Astros were five outs away from delivering Norris his first win since May 21 before the Reds erupted for five runs in the eighth, including a three-run homer by Jay Bruce that tied the game, to beat the Astros, 5-3, at Minute Maid Park.

"That's a disappointing loss," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "We had a 3-0 lead, and the game was ours the whole way."

No one was more disappointed than Norris, who allowed six hits for his third consecutive quality start, lowering his ERA to 1.90 at home. Still, some nagging injuries, a few rough starts and a lack of run support have kept him from being able to win a game in more than three months.

"I really have no comment on that, unfortunately," said Norris, who is 0-10 with a 5.90 ERA in his last 16 starts. "There's nothing I can say about it."

Houston went 1-5 on its homestand against two first-place clubs, the Giants and Reds. San Francisco came from behind twice to beat the Astros earlier this week.

"Two out of three is in reach the last couple of [series]," DeFrancesco said. "We lost one against the Giants and another one here. There is an upside, and we just have to figure a way to hang onto the lead and figure out some momentum for this road trip."

Norris left his start on Tuesday against the Giants because of a blister, which played into DeFrancesco's decision to pull him after only 79 pitches on Sunday.

"He's got this blister problem, and you keep adding innings on him and stress to it, who knows, we might lose him for one of the [remaining] starts," he said. "That's not our plan. We want Bud to finish the season strong here and give us a chance. Six quality innings after coming off a blister problem, that's the right move for us."

Norris' biggest hurdle was cleared in the sixth when he struck out Bruce swinging and got Todd Frazier to hit into a double play to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam.

"It's huge," Norris said.

The Astros carried a 3-0 lead into the eighth when Hector Ambriz issued a one-out walk to Drew Stubbs before giving up a single to Brandon Phillips. DeFrancesco summoned left-hander Xavier Cedeno from the bullpen to face Bruce, who was hitting .226 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs against southpaws coming into the game.

"Those situations with lefty on lefty, Cedeno has this three-quarter breaking ball that he's trying to get Bruce to chase out of the zone," DeFrancesco said. "Sometimes you treat it like an 0-2 pitch, like you're away ahead of the count, but, unfortunately, he left it up. They're designed to hit three-run homers and two-run homers. That's a powerful team over there."

Cedeno left the pitch letter-high, and Bruce walloped it 419 feet over the right-field wall to tie the game. Back-to-back doubles by Chris Heisey and Miguel Cairo allowed the Reds to take a 5-3 lead and bat around against three Houston pitchers.

"It was great," Bruce said. "Last night, we lost a tough one. I think that just showed us that you can't ever just come out here and throw your gloves on the field and win. Not that we did that, but you can't sleep on those guys even though they've been struggling this year."

The Astros scored a run off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo in the fifth to take a 1-0 lead when Brian Bogusevic hit a potential double-play ball to second base with one out, only to watch Phillips fumble with it and settle for an out at second to allow a run to score.

Fernando Martinez hit a triple to center field in the seventh to score Jason Castro, who had walked, and put the Astros ahead, 2-0. Tyler Greene, who committed two errors, hit a solo homer later in the inning -- his fifth in 20 games with Houston.

"You always have faith once you get a lead late in a game at home that you're able to close it out," Greene said. "They put together some good at-bats and got some big hits and they were able to pull ahead."

Earlier in the seventh inning, with Martinez on third following his triple, he was thrown out when the Reds tried a modified pitch out to avoid a squeeze. DeFrancesco said those are the types of plays the Astros are going to have to execute to score runs considering their lack of offensive punch.

"We're trying to add runs," he said. "I think we're going to have to be creative and hit and run, suicide squeeze, safety squeeze. I think it's going to take that kind of play to keep some momentum with the offense being so young."

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.