Moehler digs too deep a hole for Astros
Starter allows seven runs in 1 2/3; club belts five homers
HOUSTON -- Brian Moehler had the best Spring Training of all Astros starting pitchers, and while expectations weren't sky-high for the veteran right-hander entering Wednesday's game, it was reasonable to expect a good showing.
But Moehler's outing, from the first pitch, was entirely forgettable. By the time he left with two outs in the second, he had allowed eight hits and five earned runs and would soon be tagged for two more once Mike Fontenot took the first pitch from Moehler's replacement, Russ Ortiz, and deposited it into the right-field stands.
The offense gave an admirable effort to try to keep the game respectable, but the Cubs eventually prevailed, 11-6, winning the season-opening series before 30,047 at Minute Maid Park.
"Uphill battle, right from jump street tonight," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Not a good night, particularly early on, pitching-wise for us. It wasn't one of our better efforts."
Moehler allowed the first seven hitters to reach base before he recorded his first out. The Cubs batted around in the opening frame, recording six hits and one walk to take a 4-0 lead before the Astros had their first at-bats.
The Cubs broke nearly as many bats as they recorded hits, and few balls were hit well. That didn't matter to Moehler, who took the blame for this one.
"A hit's a hit," he said. "Broken bat, whatever. At the end of the year, it's still going to say 'hit' in the box score. I just didn't have it tonight, that's the bottom line. We had to scramble the rest of the game, I put us in a hole from the get-go. We had to play catchup, the bullpen suffered, and I stunk."
If the Cubs got lucky with their hits of the broken-bat variety, Moehler didn't want to hear about it.
"When you put the ball in play, things happen, good or bad," he said. "That's what they did tonight. They put the ball in play."
Cooper offered a more gentle opinion of Moehler's performance.
"I thought Moehler threw OK, just they got, what, two broken-bat base hits, then a ground ball down the first-base line for another hit?" Cooper said. "They didn't hit hard, just in the right place, I guess. Sometimes it happens."
Cooper added that he was hesitant to pull Moehler when he did and considered leaving him in to work through the outing.
"It was a little tough for me," Cooper said. "I was kind of on the bubble, even when I did go get him. We need him this year to be the anchor down there, to be that fourth or fifth guy for us. He's always pretty good, he's always around the plate, throws strikes. I thought they made a pretty good adjustment to him, and that's probably why they were able to have success off him."
The score was 8-0 after two when the Astros sprung to life, plating two runs in the third and fourth innings to cut the Cubs' lead in half. Jeff Keppinger and Lance Berkman logged consecutive solo homers in the third, and Pudge Rodriguez, hitting in the seven-hole for the first time, knocked a two-run homer off Ted Lilly in the next frame.
Ortiz, who as the fifth starter will not make his first start until next Thursday, pitched close to a full game, pitch-wise, in relief. He threw 73 pitches over three innings, allowing three runs, walking four and striking out six. He issued leadoff walks to Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome in the fifth, and both eventually scored on Aramis Ramirez's double off Chris Sampson.
The Astros' near comeback made this outing that much more frustrating for Ortiz, whose appearance was his first in a big league game since 2007.
"[I] gave up a three-run home run, and walking guys put us in a position where a single scored two more," he said. "Right there, that's five runs that were tallied in that time period. That's the thing that bothers me the most ... I felt great, but that's a situation where I've got to be a little better in that [fifth] inning."
Because of the shaky pitching, the Astros' five-home run night, their first since May of last year, was ultimately wasted.
"With our offense, we believe we can score runs," Cooper said. "We just need to pitch well. Tonight was just a rough night for us."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.