Jennings effective, but Astros struggle
Righty tosses six innings; Houston collects just three hits
HOUSTON -- One of the only positives that came out of Sunday's loss was that the Astros avoided being shut out, thanks to Luke Scott's double in the ninth inning. That hit drove in one run, allowing the Astros to fall to the Cardinals by a score of 10-1, and avoid their first shutout of the 2007 season.
Other than that, it was a day to forget. The only bright spot was starting pitcher Jason Jennings, who turned in a second quality outing in as many starts. The remainder of the pitching, plus the defense and, most glaringly, the hitting, struggled mightily.
"This was a very ugly day," manager Phil Garner said. "There wasn't anything good about today, except Jennings threw a pretty decent ballgame and he deserved better.
"We looked like we didn't have any Spring Training at all today. We did not take good at-bats at all. Not good approaches, at all."
Jennings should feel right at home after this one. His previous team, the Rockies, had trouble scoring runs for him, too. In fact, in 2006, Jennings had the second lowest run support per nine innings among all National League pitchers. He received one or zero runs of support in nine of his 13 losses. The Rockies were shut out four times in his starts.
Two starts into the '07 season, Jennings' new team has scored a grand total of two runs with the right-hander on the mound.
Could his bad luck have followed him to Houston?
"I haven't thought about that this year," Jennings said. "Last year, it crossed my mind a couple times, that maybe I was making the baseball gods mad by doing something. Some bad voodoo or something.
"This hasn't been the way we wanted to start. We hadn't swung the bats the way we want to. We pitched OK for the most part, but like I said last time, there will be days we don't pitch well and they score seven, eight runs to pick us. Hopefully, it'll all even out."
The Cardinals scored their first run in the second, when Jennings threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded, allowing Jim Edmonds to score from third. Jennings allowed a two-run homer to Albert Pujols in the third, but allowed only three more baserunners through the next three innings.
"The first run that scored was kind of screwy," Jennings said. "But the one mistake to Albert was a bad pitch [a high changeup] and then after that, I settled in and battled and gave us a shot. It just wasn't good enough today."
Astros hitters did little against Houston native Kip Wells, who entered this game 18 games under .500 for his career and boasted a 5.03 ERA in 13 starts against the Astros. Minute Maid Park was eerily quiet as an announced crowd of 36,273 watched Wells allow one hit while issuing one walk and striking out seven.
How much of the Astros' struggles should be credited to Wells?
"Very little," Garner said.
The players were more complimentary.
"He's got the ability to be dominant at times," Brad Ausmus said. "He was today."
"He was tough," a terse Lance Berkman offered. "He was real tough. He makes his pitches."
This game was close for seven innings, but the wheels started to fall off in the eighth and continued rolling downhill in the final frame. The Cardinals scored seven runs off five Houston relievers. Brad Lidge, making his first appearance since Opening Day, allowed five runs -- two earned -- in the ninth.
With runners on first and second, Lidge induced a ground ball from Pujols, but shortstop Mark Loretta bobbled the ball. That loaded the bases for Scott Rolen, who cleared them with a double to left center. Yadier Molina added an RBI double to give the Cardinals the double-digit win.
"I would say as a collective unit we're not playing well," Lidge said. "We are struggling. This isn't the start we wanted to get off to. There's a lot of things we need to be better at. At the same time, in 2005, we started off 15-30 and we did pretty good that year. Last year, we started out pretty good, I think 19-9, and we didn't make the playoffs.
"We need to start playing better, the bottom line. We're not getting it done in a lot of ways."
"This just wasn't a very good-looking game," said Craig Biggio, who struck out three times. "We were only down by three and then it got ugly after that. Collectively, we just weren't able to get it done. We have to start playing better."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.