HOUSTON -- This point in the season is about the young Astros continuing to learn and finding teachable moments amidst the backdrop of competition against teams who have plenty more to play for than pride. It's about identifying something promising for a future that can only be brighter.
That's why Tony DeFrancesco understandably tried to focus on the positives that happened in Friday's 9-3 loss to the Reds rather than the, well, not-so-positives. There were a few things to make the Astros' interim manager smile, but a rough outing by starter Fernando Abad set the tone and mood at Minute Maid Park.
The first-place Reds broke open a tie game by scoring four runs off Abad in the fifth inning, capped by a three-run home run by Jay Bruce, to send the Astros to their sixth consecutive loss. Houston has lost eight consecutive games at home.
"That team over there is designed to hit three-run homers and two-run homers," DeFrancesco said. "They have three or four guys that can definitely hurt a baseball, and you see why they're where they're at. They've got a ton of guys with 25 home runs, and they have guys with 14 home runs on the bench."
Reds starter Mike Leake (7-8) benefited from the offense and allowed two runs and seven hits with six strikeouts in six innings to help Cincinnati finish August with a 19-11 record.
"They had a good plan against me today," he said. "They made it a little tough on me. I was kind of missing just off, and they were being patient. It was a good plan on their part."
Abad (0-2), making his second Major League start in his 83rd career appearance, was rocked for nine hits and six runs in 4 1/3 innings. All but one of the runs he allowed came via the long ball, with Zack Cozart hitting a two-run homer in the third inning before Bruce's shot in the fifth.
"You look back at the game, and he hung a breaking ball to Cozart for a two-run homer," DeFrancesco said. "He got to the fifth inning in a tie game, and he's our starting pitcher and the guy we think is going to get us through it. We have a lefty-lefty matchup with a pretty good hitter, Bruce, and first pitch was a three-run homer."
Abad's a reliever by trade who's filling a spot in the rotation. He had a bang-up winter in the Dominican Republic prior to the 2011 season as a starter and came to camp to try to win a spot in the rotation, only to fizzle and wind up back in the bullpen.
"We're trying to get him stretched out, but it's about executing pitches," DeFrancesco said. "That's our biggest problem -- is command of the fastball and breaking-ball command. When we're ahead we're making mistakes, and right now we're not good enough to make any mistakes. Any ball that's over the plate and up, the ball's hit hard. It takes us out of the ballgame."
The Astros got back-to-back homers from Fernando Martinez and Matt Dominguez in the fourth inning to tie the game. It's the third time this year the Astros have hit consecutive homers.
Martinez hit a 409-foot rocket into the upper deck in right field -- his second upper-deck shot of the week -- and Dominguez launched a blast to left field three pitches later to make it 2-2. It was the first Major League home run for Dominguez, who went 3-for-4 a night earlier with a triple and a double.
"It was awesome," Dominguez said of his first homer. "I don't know how many at-bats I have, but to finally get one is a relief to get it out of the way. Hopefully I can keep getting more quality at-bats."
Dominguez, acquired from the Marlins on July 4 in the Carlos Lee trade, is hitting .375 in six games for the Astros this year, including 4-for-8 in two games since getting called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"His play at third base looks like he can handle anything down there, so we're real pleased with that," DeFrancesco said.
Cozart sparked the Reds in the fifth with a leadoff double, and the inning quickly spun out of control for Abad. Chris Heisey's RBI single gave the Reds the lead, and Bruce hit a long homer to right field three batters later to put the Reds ahead, 6-2.
"That fifth inning, I think I made some good pitches, but they had some luck on their side, and with Bruce, I did make a mistake," Abad said. "That pitched sunk toward the middle of the plate, and he took advantage of it."
Rookie relief pitcher Mickey Storey followed Abad and did a nice job by allowing two hits and one run in two innings while striking out four batters. It's outings like that the Astros will take notice of as they try to get a look at as many young players as they can.
"Mickey Storey was a guy that was sucking up innings and had four strikeouts, and that's what we're looking for out of our bullpen," DeFrancesco said. "It looks like he can handle it. The game was out of line when he got in, but he did his job like he was supposed to."