Astros tough it out to take series
Abbreviated start from Wandy aided by timely hits, 'pen
ATLANTA -- With a bullpen depleted by overuse or injury, the Astros needed two things from Wandy Rodriguez on Sunday: an outing similar to the first five he made this year, and the ability to stay in for at least six innings, if not more.
Rodriguez wasn't as good as he's been so far, nor did he last as long as his earlier starts. But the Astros still won, 7-5, to take two out of three and a series victory from the Braves. The Astros are now 4-2 on their current eight-game road trip.
Rodriguez curiously left after five innings and just 86 pitches, despite pitching seemingly well, save for a bumpy fifth frame. He issued a leadoff walk to the pitcher, Jo-Jo Reyes, before yielding a bunt single to Omar Infante. To add salt to the wound, he balked later in the inning, which allowed Reyes to trot home. A Jeff Francouer sacrifice fly drove in another run, tying the game at 2.
The Astros scored three times in the sixth, but Rodriguez didn't return in the bottom of the frame.
"He was at 85 or 86 [pitches] and it looked like to me it was kind of getting away from him a little bit," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We had some fresh guys to use there; I thought I could get through the sixth."
Rodriguez implored Cooper to keep him in for another inning, but Cooper refused.
"I wanted one more inning, but Cooper said, 'That's it,'" Rodriguez said.
Cooper applauded Rodriguez for a gutty performance despite not having great stuff -- "I didn't think Wandy had good command in those middle innings there, in the fourth and fifth, but the damage was limited and that was the good thing" -- but clearly, the skipper wasn't comfortable with giving his emerging lefty the opportunity to continue his string of tremendous quality outings.
Instead, Jeff Fulchino began the sixth inning and immediately allowed a triple to Matt Diaz. Fulchino struck out David Ross, and Wesley Wright followed by striking out Jordan Shaefer. Pinch-hitter Greg Norton, however, tied the game with a base hit.
The Astros struck again in the seventh, taking the lead for good. Geoff Blum, in as part of a double-switch the prior inning, drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Kazuo Matsui's sac bunt and scored on Michael Bourn's single up the middle. Carlos Lee's sacrifice fly brought home Bourn. The Astros' four sac flies on the day tied a franchise record.
"Tremendous offensive execution," Cooper said. "We did a lot of good things today. We had three sac bunts and every time we did it, someone scored."
The Braves scored once off Geoff Geary in the seventh, but despite producing five more baserunners, Atlanta's offense was stopped cold after Diaz's RBI single.
"What a gutty, gritty performance from the bullpen," Cooper said. "The bullpen kind of bailed us out today, the last two days. What is that, 12 innings in two days?"
Actually, over the three-game series in Atlanta, Astros relievers threw 15 2/3 innings and lost two of their own to injury -- Chris Sampson, whose foot bruise appears not to be serious, and Doug Brocail, who's headed for the disabled list after straining his left hamstring on a play at first base in the eighth inning.
"I think, overall, we did pretty good -- but to be honest with you, if we accept giving up runs as excellent, then we're all kidding ourselves," Geary said. "Now we have to really pick each other up, with Doug going down hurt. I think it's just going to show everybody what we're made of. We don't have a choice."
With Brian Moehler coming off the disabled list Monday in time to make his start against the Nationals, it's possible the Astros will simply use Brocail's injury to clear a space on the 25-man roster. That said, they may have to dip into the farm system to bring in some fresh arms just to get through the next few days. The Astros don't have another off-day until May 11.
Roster decisions will be left up to the front office. Geary is simply focused on covering for his injured teammate in the interim.
"I think of it that there's someone down," Geary said. "When you go to battle the next guy's got to step in and take over the position or situation. I'm not going to say 100 percent of the time we're going to do it, but it's going to show what we're all made of now."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.