MLB Insiders: Houston Astros

James McDonald

The Pirates open a three-game series with Houston on Monday at PNC Park. Right-hander James McDonald gets the start for the Bucs. The Astros will toss rookie right-hander Henry Sosa.

The Houston Astros appear destined to finish 2011 with the worst record in the majors - and in franchise history.

They didn't resemble such a lowly club while sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates last week.

The Astros will try to continue their success against the Pirates when they open a three-game series at PNC Park on Monday.

Houston (47-93) has 10 more losses than any other MLB team, and is four defeats shy of equaling the team record set in 1965 and matched in '75 and '91.

The Astros have never finished with the worst record in the majors, but they've done little to alter that apparent eventuality while losing 23 of 28 on the road.

Houston, though, showed some promise by completing a three-game home sweep of Pittsburgh with a 2-0 win Wednesday. The Astros hit .327 and outscored the Pirates 17-6 to sweep just their second series of the season.

They failed to maintain any momentum while losing all three games to NL Central-leading Milwaukee over the weekend, falling 4-0 in Sunday's finale. Houston was held to four runs while batting .186 during the series.

Henry Sosa (2-2, 4.34 ERA) is slated to take the mound Monday and he'll try to beat Pittsburgh again.

The rookie right-hander limited the Pirates to one run and two hits while fanning a season-high seven in six innings of an 8-2 win Tuesday. That performance came five days after he allowed one run over six innings to earn a 3-1 win at San Francisco.

The Pirates (64-76) are opening a nine-game homestand after losing for the sixth time in eight games with Sunday's 6-3 defeat to Chicago.

James McDonald (8-7, 4.11) gets the ball looking to rebound from his third loss in four decisions over seven starts.

The right-hander, however, couldn't be blamed for Wednesday's 2-0 defeat at Houston. He yielded two runs - one earned - while striking out six in six innings as the Pittsburgh offense was held to four singles.

McDonald is 1-1 with a 2.91 ERA in four career starts versus Houston.

Brett Wallace got what looms as one of his infrequent starts at first base Sunday, giving veteran Carlos Lee a day of rest.

That's the way it's going to be for Wallace, the Opening Day starter who fell enough out of favor to get sent to the minor leagues on Aug. 1. His playing schedule will revolve around the infrequent times Astros manager Brad Mills wants to give Lee a break.

What, then, does Mills want to see from Wallace in September?

"We all want to see these guys be the players we're all hoping they can be," Mills said. "Every report we got down there was that his work ethic was good, that he came out and hit and took ground balls and so forth. He did that when he was here. We just want him to continue to do that. That will give him every chance for the player that he is to come out."

Wallace, 25, batted .388 in April and was above .300 as late as June 20. His season batting line for the Astros after a 0-for-4 performance Sunday in a 4-0 loss to the Brewers: .263/.338/.368. Wallace has four home runs and 26 RBI in 323 at-bats, with a slugging average nearly 100 points below the National League average for first basemen.

During a 28-game stay at Class AAA Oklahoma City, Wallace posted a .356/.437/.481 line. Despite only one home run in 104 at-bats, Wallace did drive in 24 runs. In Mills' estimation, RBI is a more telling stat for Wallace than home runs.

"You talk about creating runs, and you talk about producing runs," Mills said. "He needs to be a run-producer."

Most of Wallace's early-season production came from hitting the ball to the opposite field, but pitchers adjusted by working him over with inside fastballs. More than establish himself as a pull hitter, Mills said, Wallace needs to establish an ability to handle the inside pitch.

"If you hit the inside pitch, you're going to be able to hit it to right field," Mills said. "Being able to get the bat head to the inside pitch, that's probably more important than just pulling the ball. We get into situations where guys think, 'I've got to pull the ball,' so they try to pull everything instead of just hit.

"It's been said for years and years and years in this game: You try to teach guys to go the other way first, because then they'll naturally pull the ball. It's easier to teach pulling the ball than going the other way."

Notes, Quotes

LHP Wandy Rodriguez dropped to 10-10 for the season, allowing three runs on eight hits in six innings of a 4-0 loss to the Brewers on Sunday. Rodriguez presided over what Astros manager Brad Mills characterized as the "disheartening" develop of the team allowing all four runs in separate innings after there were two outs and nobody on base. Rodriguez allowed two-out solo homers to Ryan Braun in the first inning and Jonathan Lucroy in the second and allowed Brewers pitcher Shaun Marcum to start a rally in the fifth inning with a two-out single. "They hit good pitches," Rodriguez said of the two home runs. "I threw the ball wherever I wanted."

RF Brian Bogusevic got his first start of career at cleanup Sunday. His debut in that spot in the order was a side effect of Astros manager Brad Mills wanting to give 1B Brett Wallace a start and cleanup hitter Carlos Lee a day of rest. "We were going over things (Saturday) and I was talking to Carlos about the next two day games," Mills said. "I'd like to give one of them to Wally, and I'd prefer it to be (Sunday). We talked about it and agreed (Sunday) would probably be best."

3B Jimmy Paredes got his first career start at the No. 2 spot in the order. Astros manager Brad Mills said he needed to bat somebody second with INF Matt Downs getting the start at 2B for rookie Jose Altuve. Paredes went 0-for-4, striking out twice against Brewers RHP Shaun Marcum. "I'd prefer Altuve (in the No 2 spot)," Mills said. "But if he doesn't play, we can't put him second."

RHP Lucas Harrell is moving to the bullpen after his 5 1/3-inning, scoreless start Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Harrell, one of the Astros' September call-ups, got the start because RHP Brett Myers was on paternity leave for the birth of his fourth child. Harrell showed varied arsenal, with a sinker, cut fastball, slider, changeup and occasional curveball. "The stuff that he showed (Friday) night showed that he can throw short, middle, long just because of what he's built up," manager Brad Mills said.

RF Brian Bogusevic had one of the Astros' three hits Sunday, a ninth-inning double. The hit came after Brewers RHP Shaun Marcum had made his exit. Marcum allowed one hit seven innings and has allowed only four in his past 14 innings (all scoreless) against the Astros. "He's anything at any time," Bogusevic said. "It's tough to sit on a pitch or a location or anything. You're almost in a two-strike battle mode from pitch one."

CF Jordan Schafer broke up Milwaukee RHP Shaun Marcum's no-hit bid with a one-out single in the sixth inning. In the process, Schafer extended his hitting streak to a career-long six games.

By The Numbers: 4—Home runs Astros LHP Wandy Rodriguez has given up against Brewers LF Ryan Braun—the most of any player. Braun is 14-for-34 (.412) in his career against Rodriguez.

Quote To Note: "He's not going to overpower you, but sometimes that 85-, 86-mph fastball looks pretty hard when he's able to throw that soft stuff any time he wants to for strikes. Not just strikes—quality strikes." —Manager Brad Mills, on Brewers RHP Shaun Marcum, who has the following line in his past two starts (both victories) against the Astros: 14 innings pitched, four hits, no runs, three walks, 14 strikeouts.

Medical Watch:

LHP Sergio Escalona (left elbow tendinitis) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 22. He was scheduled to make a rehab appearance for Class AAA Oklahoma City on Sept. 5 before being activated.

RHP Brandon Lyon (right biceps tendinitis, partially torn right rotator cuff) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 14. He underwent season-ending surgery June 30, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on July 31.

RHP Alberto Arias (sore right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He threw to live hitters at extended spring training for the first time April 10. Arias felt another impingement in his shoulder April 15. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure June 3, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 29.

C Jason Castro (right knee surgery in March 2011) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 28. He was participating in baseball activities in late June, and he began training with the Astros' rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate in late July. He is not expected back this season, but he likely will play in the Arizona Fall League.

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