Astros can't back Jennings' big debut

Astros can't back Jennings' debut

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros continued their mediocre march through Opening Week, dropping their second game to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, 3-2, in similar fashion as their first loss.

They didn't hit particularly well, they gave the starting pitcher very little to work with, and the bullpen blew it in the end.

Two glaring issues remain unresolved: the offense has yet to show up, and the back end of the bullpen is not holding up its end of the bargain.

The highly anticipated power from the middle of the order hasn't surfaced. Through two games, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are 2-for-13 with one RBI.

Lee took very little comfort in his bloop RBI single in the sixth, which drove in the Astros' second run.

"We need to get the first win out of the way," he said. "I could go 0-for-4, and if we got the first win that would be even better."

Lee then admitted that he's not feeling "comfortable right now."

"I don't know if I'm trying to do too much, or trying to do something different," he said. "I'm very confident in myself. It's nothing new for me. I do this every year for 162 days. We have to get the first win out of the way, that's what we need to do."

Jason Jennings did his part, pitching masterfully through six innings. He struck out seven, an unusually high number for a ground-ball pitcher, while allowing one run, on Xavier Nady's homer, and five hits.

"Overall, I think I threw the ball well," he said. "I was working ahead of guys. I had only one walk tonight, and the strikeouts showed me that my ball was moving and was missing the barrel more times than not tonight."

"Somebody asked me earlier what to expect from him," manager Phil Garner said. "That's exactly what you would expect -- a methodical approach, nice control. He used his sinker and slider, and had a nice four-seam. He did a nice job."

Jennings left with a lead that vanished two innings later. Dan Wheeler was close to escaping damage several times during the Pirates' two-run eighth, and had he been on the favorable end of several borderline calls, the outcome could have been different.

Instead, the Bucs nibbled their way to four hits off the Astros setup man, generating two runs that erased the Astros' narrow 2-1 lead.

Jack Wilson reached on a bunt single, and Jason Bay reached on a walk. Adam LaRoche flew to center, but Ronny Paulino and Nady followed with consecutive RBI singles to push the Pirates ahead.

Wheeler chose not to criticize the umpiring in that frame, saying only that he had several opportunities to get out of the inning himself, unscathed.

"I put myself in a position to get out of that inning with one pitch," Wheeler said. "I just wasn't able to make that pitch. I kind of left the ball up in the zone [on Paulino]. I floated a slider in there and it didn't really break. He put the bat on the ball and the run scores. After that, Nady just kind of got enough of it to get it out there."

"Wilson made a high-risk bunt that he succeeded with," Garner said. "Normally, bunting to the first-base side with a right-handed pitcher is not a good choice, but it worked. [Wheeler] didn't give up exactly rockets. We hung a 3-2 breaking pitch to Paulino that wasn't a good pitch. Then he jammed Nady. Those things are going to happen once in a while."

The Astros had no such luck against Pirates right-hander Ian Snell, who reached a career high with 11 strikeouts over his six-inning outing.

No need to "tip the cap" this time. According to Snell, he wasn't that dominant.

"Let's just say they just helped me out a lot, them swinging at bad pitches," he said. "When they got 0-2, or I'd throw a pitch in the dirt or throw a slider and got them out."

Only Lee and Jason Lane, who was 2-for-4 with a solo homer in the fifth, contributed. The Astros managed only seven hits off six Pirates pitchers.

"It's surprising," Garner said of the lack of offensive production. "But it's two games. You need to look at 10-game sets. Certainly these two games are not what we expected from the offense. The next four or five could be something exciting."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.