HOUSTON -- It would have been an inspiring end to a losing streak had the Astros figured out a way to finish the job. They turned a huge early deficit into a tenuous lead in a span of two innings Saturday night, only to painstakingly find a way to give it back.
It's been that kind of week for the Astros, who allowed the Reds to clobber four home runs -- including three in the first two innings -- and saw their losing streak extended to eight games in a 12-9 loss at Minute Maid Park.
The losing streak is the longest for the Astros since they had a pair of eight-game skids within the first month of the 2010 season. The team is looking for answers as it has plummeted toward the bottom of the National League Central standings after being just one game under .500 barely a week ago.
"It's almost unacceptable to lose this many games in a row," Astros third baseman Chris Johnson said. "We've got to go out there and rip. We can't hope for a win, we have to go out there and take a win and do it as soon as possible. You have to do everything at 100 percent."
The top four hitters in Cincinnati's batting order went 11-for-20 with nine runs scored, with Joey Votto continuing to feast on Houston pitching by going 4-for-4 with three runs scored and a homer.
The Reds jumped on Wandy Rodriguez to take an 8-2 lead after two innings. Votto hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and tape-measure homers by Todd Frazier and Drew Stubbs in the second allowed the Reds to bat around and score five times. The Astros have been outscored, 20-5, in the first inning of their past six games.
"That's been a rough spot for us this past week," manager Brad Mills said. "Obviously, the first and second inning were tough tonight. It was good to see [Rodriguez] come back. We were trying to get him into a rhythm in the first inning, trying to get him into a rhythm in the second inning and he finally started getting into it in that third inning and started much better. It was tough to get us behind that eight-ball early."
Rodriguez had his second consecutive poor start, allowing nine hits and nine runs (seven earned) in five innings. In his last two outings, he's allowed 19 hits and 16 runs (11 earned) in 10 innings, but he hasn't lost either start.
"I'm sorry because you know what, guys, I didn't have nothing today," Rodriguez said. "I missed a lot with my location with my breaking ball and I couldn't throw it for a strike. It's hard when you're a pitcher and you feel like you feel today."
Still, when Astros rallied to score seven unanswered runs against Reds starter Mat Latos in the third and fourth innings to take a 9-8 lead, Rodriguez was still in position to get the win if he could have righted the ship. But Ryan Ludwick led off the fifth with a homer to tie the game.
"I tried to hold it because I see my teammates were hitting very good and when I saw it was 9-8, I wanted to do the best I can but they hit a home run and tied the game," Rodriguez said.
Mills said Rodriguez's tempo wasn't the best.
"If there's anything we want to talk about it's probably that, and a lot of times that leads into something, leaving the ball over the plate and those get hit pretty hard," he said.
Relief pitcher Fernando Rodriguez started the sixth with two outs before Votto singled for his fourth hit of the game. Brandon Phillips hit a blooper into right field that fell beyond the reach of a diving Fernando Martinez to allow Votto to score the go-ahead run.
"They had the momentum going big time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "They were getting timely walks, a big blooper in there. Things starting snowballing. It's hard to stop that snowball."
Cincinnati grabbed a 12-9 lead in the eighth on a two-run single by Phillips against reliever Brandon Lyon. The Astros managed only one baserunner in the final two innings, with Reds fireball closer Aroldis Chapman striking out three batters in the ninth for a second consecutive night in earning his fifth save.
"They have a good lineup for sure," said Johnson, who went 2-for-2 with three walks. "It's not something we're used to seeing, Wandy going out there and getting beat up a little. But the good thing is we showed some heart, we stayed in the whole game."
Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, who hit a two-run homer in the first inning, said his team just needs to keep plugging away.
"They put up a lot of runs early and we were able to make a comeback there, but they had too much for us tonight," Lowrie said. "I think we need to keep our heads down and keep grinding and making minor adjustments to get out of this rut."