Wandy does it all in win against Brewers
Johnson's four hits, Blum's three runs support efficient starter
MILWAUKEE -- There was an encouraging mix of something old, in the form of Wandy Rodriguez pitching confidently and effectively like he did for much of last year, and something new, in the form of rookie third baseman Chris Johnson having another four-hit game.
The Astros, two games shy of the midpoint of the season, are showing more signs of promise than they did the first two months of the season, thanks in part to the infusion of younger players and better performances by the veterans.
It all came together Wednesday afternoon at sun-splashed Miller Park, where Rodriguez held the Brewers to one run in seven innings, Johnson went 4-for-4 and veteran Geoff Blum scored three runs to lead the Astros to a 5-1 win over the Brewers in the series finale.
Houston went 14-14 in June, which is the first month this season in which they didn't finish a month at least six games under .500. The Astros, who have won nine consecutive Wednesday games, improved to 3-3 on a 10-game road trip that takes them to San Diego on Thursday.
"We've been on the road a bunch and faced some real stiff competition, and we held our own," Blum said. "The pitching's done a great job, and when we won those ballgames we got some timely hitting, which is key. It's a grind, but hopefully we can build on this and maintain it throughout the season."
Rodriguez (5-10) won his second consecutive start, holding the Brewers to seven hits and a walk while striking out six batters in seven innings. He had terrific command of his fastball, which allowed him to rely on a curveball that impressed Brewers manager Ken Macha.
"He did a real good job," rookie catcher Jason Castro said. "He used his fastball and did a good job of locating his breaking ball today. That was really important. He didn't leave too many pitches for them to hit, as far as leaving stuff over the plate. As far as that goes, he did a tremendous job."
Rodriguez also drove in the winning run, putting down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt in the sixth inning to score Blum from third. That gave the Astros a 2-1 lead, and they scored three times in the seventh to pull away.
"That was the first [suicide squeeze] we had all year, I think," Blum said. "I saw the sign. I don't think Wandy saw the sign, but luckily he put the ball down. I'm not an overly fast guy, but it goes to show if you practice things right and execute, good things happen."
Johnson had his second four-hit game in a span of five days, getting three singles and a two-run double in the seventh to raise his batting average to .333. Blum was 2-for-2 with two walks and scored three times, and Lance Berkman was 1-for-3 with a run, a double, an RBI and two walks.
"We did a pretty good job as a team of getting on base and just trying to keep the line moving," Johnson said. "That's what we were trying to do today. You get Wandy some runs when he was pitching like that, you get him two or three runs and he's going to take care of the rest, and he did that today."
The squeeze bunt put the Astros ahead just as Miller Park's afternoon shadows began to creep between the mound and the batter's box. That was key, considering the Astros figured to have their work cut out for them anyway against Brewers starter Dave Bush.
"Playing in this ballpark, and when the shadows creep in, it was kind of nice to get those hits early in the game," Blum said. "You've got to be patient with Bush. He's got four quality pitches, and fortunately for myself, he left a couple up and I was able to find some holes."
Bush (3-6) gave up five hits and two runs, but walked five batters in six innings. He was 6-1 with a 3.25 ERA in 14 games against the Astros prior to Wednesday.
"It's a disappointing game to lose," Bush said. "But Rodriguez pitched really well. And he pitched a little bit better than I did. So good job for him, and he earned it for sure."
Rodriguez did his part on the mound, with the bat and on defense.
With Casey McGehee at second base and one out in the sixth, Rodriguez fielded a Jonathan Lucroy grounder at the mound and faked a throw to first, before turning to nail McGehee at third base for a crucial out in a one-run game.
"[That's] where poise comes in right there, being able to recognize [the runner] may be taking off if he makes that fake," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He makes the fake and was able to get him. That was very big."
That was one of a handful of highlight-reel plays turned in by the Astros.
Gold Glove center fielder Michael Bourn had another tremendous catch in center field for the second game in a row, leaping at the wall to rob Corey Hart of a hit in the first inning. Johnson made a nice diving stop on top of third base in the second inning and tagged out McGehee in the process.
"It seems like we're playing better baseball," said reliever Brandon Lyon, who threw one scoreless inning. "Whether we win games or lose games, it seems like we're in a lot more games than we were the first two months.
"Everyone's been going out there doing their jobs and doing what they can to help us win. It's a better attitude. You win games like this, and you win series on the road and you try to build off that. It's still a long season, and you can't consider yourself out at any point. So you've got to keep grinding it out."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.