Oswalt battles, but falls just short
Offense can't back up ace right-hander's quality start
ARLINGTON -- The Astros haven't consistently beaten any particular kind of team this season -- bad teams, good teams, middle-of-the-road teams. So it really should come as no surprise that they have dropped two games against the club with the worst record in the American League, just a few days after losing two of three to one of the better teams in the Junior Circuit.
The Astros fell to the Rangers on Saturday, 7-2. On paper, they seemingly had the advantage, considering they had their ace, Roy Oswalt, on the mound, while the Rangers had to rely on Jamey Wright, an oft-injured righty who was making just his second start since returning from the disabled list.
But for the Astros, it was the same story, different day. Baserunners weren't the problem. They gave themselves ample chances to score in every inning other than the third and the ninth, but as has been the case for much of the year, they were unable to capitalize.
"Our offense is hit or miss," manager Phil Garner said. "We don't know what we've got. We'll have some good games and we'll have some aboslute rotton games. It's not as much their pitching, as our hitting sometimes."
Garner isn't one to give too much credit to an opposing starting pitcher, and on Saturday, that philosophy was justified. Wright walked the first two batters of the game and clearly was struggling to find his command, but the Astros played right into his hands.
Hunter Pence grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, followed by Carlos Lee's flyout to right, and even though Wright walked six, the Astros' offensive efforts weren't much of a threat.
"The biggest inning was the first inning," Oswalt said. "The guy walks two straight out of the chute, that's when you've got to put pressure on him. He got out of the inning and started falling into better sync after that. We didn't put a lot of pressure on him like we should have."
Oswalt followed that comment with a harsh criticism of his own contributions. The Rangers scored three in the fifth, all with two outs. Ian Kinsler drove in a run with a double to left, and designated hitter Michael Young singled to center, scoring two.
Oswalt ran his pitch count up to 113, due partly to three consecutive walks issued in the seventh. He was lifted after the last free pass in favor of Rick White, who coaxed a fly ball to shallow center and a grounder to short to end the inning.
"I should have gotten a few more quicker outs," Oswalt said. "My pitch count's been going up quick. I don't know if they're seeing the ball better or what, but usually I can get through six innings with less than 100 pitches."
Oswalt acknowledged he had tired by the end of his outing.
"I was throwing some pitches inside there, trying to get some ground balls, a double play, but I was missing over the right-side part of the plate," he said. "I never really did make an adjustment."
"He must have tired at the end, because it's uncharacteristic," Garner said. "Three guys in a row? I don't know what's going on. It's almost like it's certainly contagious. But Roy, I give him a lot of credit today. He didn't have a curveball and he was going against a good hitting ballclub with not one of his better weapons. He did a good job keeping us right there with only three runs."
According to Oswalt and catcher Brad Ausmus, abandoning the curveball was by choice.
"We just felt like we could attack with fastball-slider," Ausmus said. "We used more sliders today, mixed in a few changeups. Curveballs were sparsely used, at best."
Once Oswalt departed, the game went further downhill. White yielded a leadoff homer to Gerald Laird in the eighth, giving the Rangers the two-run cushion. Young drove in two more, knocking a base hit up the middle off Chad Qualls. Marlon Byrd followed with another hit up the middle to cap the Rangers' four-run frame.
"Whitey gets us out of a jam and he gives up the home run when he goes back out," Garner said. "He just had to get another batter out. Qualls made some decent pitches and got ground balls. As long as he's getting ground balls, he's going to be OK. But sooner or later, these stinking ground balls have got to go pretty close to an infielder."
The Astros are now 12 games under .500 at 31-43 and continue to sink in the National League Central standings. They're also one loss away from being swept by a team that is last in its division.
"I really don't care how much [the Rangers have] struggled, I'm just irritated with our struggles," Ausmus said. "I try not to be too involved in what the other team's doing. You have a game on a given day against a particular opponent and we should win that game. We did not do that today."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.