MILWAUKEE -- Astros manager Brad Mills is sticking tight to the mantra that what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger.
Sure, it's a manager's job to remain positive, especially with microphones and cameras in your face following a tough night at the ballpark, but Mills staunchly believes his young team's growing list of close losses will wind up paying dividends somewhere down the line.
"It's coming," he said. "I keep saying it, but I know it's there."
The Astros played to a familiar script on Monday night, finding themselves one hit away from erasing an early four-run deficit against the Brewers before coming up short in a 6-5 loss in the series opener at Miller Park.
In the loss, which was the Astros' fifth this season by one run, Houston rallied for three runs in the seventh to cut the Brewers' lead to 6-5 and wasted a leadoff single in the ninth inning by Carlos Lee. Brewers closer John Axford struck out the next three batters to end the game and saddle Houston with 15 strikeouts on the night.
The Astros bashed out 13 hits -- one day after getting 12 hits against the Dodgers -- but only three of those hits Monday came with runners in scoring position. They stranded 11 runners.
"I think we need to continue to grind it out," shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "We're playing really competitive games right now. There's not a lot of rolling over. There's a lot of fight. Tonight we could have easily rolled over, and we made it tough on them. That's the kind of thing that will wear down their bullpen, and we can hopefully take advantage of that the next two days."
Brewers starter Zack Greinke (2-1) held the Astros to eight hits and two runs and struck out nine batters to improve to 13-0 in his career at Miller Park and 4-0 in his career against Houston, which has lost 10 games in a row to the Brewers.
Greinke certainly wasn't the first opponent to laud the Astros for being more competitive than they were a year ago. Despite a 6-11 record, the Astros have outscored opponents, 76-67, so far this year and have lost by more than three runs only once.
"I feel like I've really struggled with guys on base, so it was nice to get out of some jams," Greinke said. "I feel like their team has been playing pretty solid lately. I haven't completely watched it, but they're taking some good at-bats. It definitely wasn't easy out there today."
Jordan Schafer went 2-for-5 to extend his streak of reaching base in consecutive games to start the season to 17, and Lee went 3-for-5. Brian Bogusevic was 1-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs, and Lowrie (2-for-5) hit a solo homer in the first inning for his first long ball in an Astros uniform.
"Greinke is one of the best starters in the league, and to get him out, to get his pitch count up high early and to get into the bullpen, that was big," Lowrie said. "He's a guy that can go the distance any night out. I think that sets up well to hopefully get in that bullpen early [Tuesday] and take advantage of it."
The Brewers summoned Jose Veras to the mound in the seventh to protect a 6-2 lead, and he was rocked for three runs. Bogusevic had a two-run triple and scored on Chris Johnson's single to cut the lead to 6-5. Matt Downs grounded out to end the inning, with third baseman Aramis Ramirez going to his left to make a nice play to strand two runners on base.
"It's tough," Castro said. "We came back and scored three late, but we need to try to get out in front early. When we've been successful, that's what we've done, and we need to try to do that as much as possible. Whatever we need to do to try to push some across early in the game is what we need to focus on."
Astros starter Lucas Harrell (1-1) lost for the first time this season, allowing five runs and five hits in five innings. He gave up three runs in the first inning -- allowing a walk, single and triple after one out -- and was burned by a leadoff triple by Corey Hart in the fourth and a solo homer by Ryan Braun in the fifth that put him in a 5-2 hole.
"I didn't have command of my secondary stuff," Harrell said. "My sinker was really good, and I really got hurt most of the game with my offspeed stuff -- changeup on the home run to Braun, both triples were sliders down and away. I was real good inside. I kind of went away from the game plan a little bit, and that's where I got hurt."
And as the Astros rallied late in the game, the mistakes Harrell made innings earlier were only magnified.
"It's really frustrating for me, because these guys are playing their [behinds] off and you don't have all your stuff that day and you cost the team a win," he said. "It's exciting to see the guys play and fight, and they really fought hard. I just didn't do my part."