Norris struggles as Astros can't hold early lead

Norris struggles as Astros can't hold early lead

Norris struggles as Astros can't hold early lead
CINCINNATI -- The Astros may only have 23 games left on the schedule, but they're going to use every inning to their advantage.

That concept was made very evident again Saturday night in Houston's 5-1 loss to Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park, when the Astros used more than half of their available roster in the contest.

Sixteen different Astros made appearances Saturday, as manager Tony DeFrancesco flipped and flopped the lineup to accommodate the matchups at the plate and on the mound.

"It's going to be good. Everybody is going to get a chance," DeFrancesco said of the club going forward. "I think we had the right guys up in the right situations."

The Astros did manage to outhit the Reds, 9-8, but could only scrounge one run out of the evening, which came in the first inning.

For the second night in a row, the Astros struck first, driving in a run in the opening frame off Reds righty Bronson Arroyo. Justin Maxwell, who homered in the first inning Friday, laced an RBI single center to drive in Fernando Martinez from second and gave Houston a 1-0 lead.

But Houston would be blanked by Arroyo and the Reds relievers for the final eight innings, leaving nine runners stranded on base.

"Houston is a really young team," said Arroyo, a 13-year veteran. "They give you opportunities to get some quick innings. If you throw the ball in the zone, they swing it. That works well for me."

The Astros strung together a number of threats throughout the game, but never managed to find the clutch hit to push them through.

"It was good to see some of the guys swing the bats," DeFrancesco said. "A big hit here or there and you've got [Carlos] Corporan coming up with the bases loaded. [I was] pleased about some of that stuff."

In particular, DeFrancesco pointed to Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Matt Dominguez, who each had multi-hit nights.

But the Astros bats failed to supply run support for starter Bud Norris yet again, marking the 13th time in Norris' past 17 outings he's failed to receive more than three runs of support.

Overall, Norris looked solid through the first five frames, giving up just two solo home runs in the second and the third to Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips, respectively, to surrender the early lead, 2-1.

"They're a good hitting team," Norris said. "I think I really only made one really bad pitch tonight and that was the first solo shot to Bruce. I think Phillips put a great swing on that pitch, and I threw it where I wanted. [Great American Ball Park] definitely plays small, and I think everyone knows that by now."

Things went south for Norris in the sixth inning after loading the bases with just one away. Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan then knocked a soft liner into right to drive one run in and end Norris' outing.

Fernando Rodriguez replaced Norris after 5 1/3, but the damage didn't stop there.

Rodriguez battled Wilson Valdez through a 10-pitch at-bat, including seven foul balls, before Valdez sent a dribbler down the third base line. Rodriguez slid to field it, but made an errant throw home, allowing two more runs to score, making it 5-1.

"[Norris] had two shots to try and get out of the inning," DeFrancesco said. "Unfortunately, he walked the next guy, then [allowed] the soft single by the catcher. That was enough after that. [Rodriguez] threw it home wide, there was no play and he gave up two more runs. Not much more happening after that."

Norris faced the Reds six days ago in Houston, but to much better results, holding them scoreless through six innings.

He didn't have the same luck Saturday, possibly due to some recurring blister problems in his throwing hand.

"I'm trying to leave it on the field. I played it all the way through," Norris said. "My finger definitely bothered me a little bit. I'm still trying to grind it out there and make some pitches. A couple fell in for them."

Norris wasn't sure of the severity of the blisters this time around, but said he's going to take extra precautions before his next start.

"It's day-by-day," he said. "I'm going to have to talk to the trainers and the skipper and go from there."

The loss evens the series at one game apiece heading into Sunday afternoon's rubber match.

Mark Clements is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.