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Harrell fans six over seven strong innings

SAN DIEGO -- Astros first baseman Matt Downs didn't hit the ball out of the infield in three at-bats against Padres starter Edinson Volquez on Thursday night, but it can be argued his contribution with the bat was more valuable than the two homers he clubbed a night earlier.

Downs' check-swing dribbler in the fourth inning, in which Volquez fielded the ball but was unable to make a play, was ruled a single and ultimately kept the struggling Astros from having the stain of being no-hit for the second time in five weeks.

Volquez flirted with delivering the first no-hitter in the history of the San Diego franchise, becoming the first Padres pitcher to throw a one-hitter at Petco Park, in beating the Astros, 1-0.

The Astros, who were the victim of Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13 in San Francisco, lost for the 16th time in their past 18 games, dropping the final three in the series after beating the Padres on Monday to snap their 13-game road losing streak.

"When you look at the fourth inning and realize that's the only hit you're going to get, you're just glad you didn't get no-hit," Downs said.

Houston's offense still can't escape its deep freeze. The Astros are batting .191 as a team in their last 19 games, going 3-16 in that span. Houston has scored 13 runs in seven games since the All-Star break, hitting .159.

"The old saying goes, 'When it rains, it pours,'" Downs said. "Hitting's contagious. We could have gone up there and got a couple hits early and maybe pushed across 10 runs, but when you struggle early, it starts grinding out to a long game where you're not getting any hits and not getting anybody on base."

The club has been getting decent pitching in the last month, and that was certainly the case on Thursday.

Rookie right-hander Lucas Harrell held the Padres to one run and four hits and struck out six batters in seven innings in suffering a tough-luck loss. Harrell (7-7) threw a shutout against the Padres on June 27 in Houston.

"I felt like early I was locating pretty well, and I felt like as the game went on my other pitches kind of came in and I started using my changeup a little bit more in the later innings and I felt like it was pretty good," Harrell said. "Overall, I felt like I threw the ball pretty well and we played some great defense behind me."

Volquez, who sent down the final 10 batters and 15 of the last 16, improved to 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA in his career against the Astros.

"We had four or five well-hit balls right on the button," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "It was hit right at them and that happens, but at the same time it would have been nice to at least try to get something started."

Harrell gave up a leadoff double to Alexi Amarista in the first, and Logan Forsythe followed with an RBI single to give the Padres a 1-0 lead after three pitches. Harrell sent down 12 of the next 13 batters he faced before allowing back-to-back hits to start the fifth.

"Lucas was absolutely outstanding and did a great job," Mills said. "The first inning, a guy was able to get his bat on the ball he got up a little bit and that was obviously the only run. What a great job he did. He's been doing a good job for us all year and he continues to do a good job."

The Astros, meanwhile, put the first two runners on base in the second against Volquez when J.D. Martinez walked and Downs reached on an error. Justin Maxwell followed with a line drive to second baseman Forsythe, who leaped into the air to catch the ball and doubled Martinez off second.

"If that ball is six inches higher, there's a good chance we score two runs," Mills said.

Volquez walked Martinez with two outs in the fourth, and Downs took a half swing at a 1-2 pitch and dribbled it toward the third-base side of the mound. Volquez couldn't cleanly pick up the ball, and it's unlikely he would have thrown Downs out anyway.

"That's part of the game," Volquez said. "I think the ball was a 1-2 count. He hit it in a right spot. Close to me, but he got a hit. I think it was my ball."

Downs knows how fortunate the Astros were to get a hit.

"One of my at-bats -- the one I got the hit on -- two fastballs away that he brought back over the outside corner," he said. "You just give up on them because you think it's away and it comes back over the plate. He had his stuff tonight. He was on both sides of the plate, threw all three pitches for a strike."

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