(Sports Network) – As strikeout after strikeout piled up on Sunday, the Houston Astros had to wonder if there were holes in their bats.
The Astros aim to stop the Atlanta Braves’ six-game winning streak this evening and avoid getting swept in a four-game series at home by the club for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Houston struck out 17 times in Sunday’s 4-1 setback at Minute Maid Park, losing for the fourth straight time while falling to 1-8 in its last nine games. It marked the Astros’ highest single-game strikeout total since fanning 17 times against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 15, 2002.
Brett Myers took the loss for the Astros on Sunday, allowing two-run homers to Dan Uggla and Brian McCann over his seven-inning outing. Michael Bourn went 0- for-4 to halt his 12-game hitting streak.
“No matter how many times you’ve been through it, it’s still tough to get through. Especially with us losing games over the past week or so, it’s frustrating,” Myers said about Houston’s recent struggles.
The Astros are likely to have outfielder Hunter Pence back in the lineup this evening after he got the day off on Sunday. Pence, who has been battling tightness in his back, is riding a career-high 22-game hitting streak, batting .391 over that span.
Houston could use his bat after Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson posted a career- high 14 strikeouts in seven innings of one-run ball on Sunday. Hanson scattered three hits over his outing to help Atlanta match its longest winning streak of the season.
“He was outstanding. He was borderline pitch count in the sixth but the seventh inning was probably the best inning he had. He was able to do what we wanted with the bullpen by him going seven innings,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said about Hanson.
Uggla homered in the first inning and McCann went deep in the sixth for the Braves, who have won seven in a row over the Astros and are 11-1 over the past 12 encounters with the club. They haven’t swept a four-game series in Houston since July 16-19, 1992.
McCann has been swinging a hot bat as of late for Atlanta, which is 7-2 on a 10-game road swing and sits two games back of Philadelphia for first place in the National League East. The catcher has three homers and seven RBI over a five-game hitting streak, but is 0-for-8 in his career against Houston pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, who comes off the disabled list in time to start this game.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez hasn’t pitched since beating the Blue Jays on May 22 due to left elbow joint effusion. He held Toronto to a pair of runs — both on solo homers — over six innings of a win and threw a four-inning rehab start with Double-A Corpus Christi on Wednesday, allowing one run.
The southpaw, who is 3-3 with a 3.41 earned run average in 10 starts this season, hurled eight shutout innings versus Atlanta in his previous start on May 17, but got a no-decision in the Braves’ 3-1 victory in 11 innings. Rodriguez is 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in 10 career games against Atlanta, including nine starts.
Rodriguez faced Derek Lowe in his last outing versus Atlanta and will counter the veteran again tonight.
Lowe was also solid in a no-decision versus Houston, yielding one run over seven innings. In 11 career starts against the Astros, the 38-year-old is 5-3 with a 3.21 ERA.
Lowe’s start versus the Astros is part of a six-game winless drought that dates back to his last win on May 6. He is 0-1 over that span, though the Braves have won each of his no-decisions and are 7-1 in his past eight outings.
The right-hander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Wednesday versus the Marlins and allowed just two hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Atlanta, though, needed extra innings to best Florida.
“His ball was darting all over the place,” McCann said of Lowe. “His changeup was great and his location was where it needed to be. When he pitches in the zone and gets that kind of movement, you’re gonna get a lot of ground balls.”
In 14 starts this season, Lowe is 3-4 with a 3.73 ERA.