Slippery slope: Astros starters try to find footing

Rotation issues continue after Fiers allows 6 runs in 4-plus innings

Slippery slope: Astros starters try to find footing

ARLINGTON -- With ace Dallas Keuchel yet to regain his form since returning from the disabled list and Lance McCullers Jr. on the disabled list for the second time this year with a back injury, the Astros are finding it hard to get consistent quality starting pitching.

Mike Fiers was as dependable as it gets through a 10-game stretch in which he went 6-2 with a 2.36 ERA, but even his last four starts (8.41 ERA) haven't been up to par. He pitched into the fifth inning in Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Rangers, but was undone by six runs, five hits (two homers), four walks and one hit by pitch.

"That's pretty much the key to failure and success for me, I think, is the walk and the home run again," Fiers said. "A big three-run homer after a couple of walks and I hit [Carlos] Gomez. One home run turns into three runs. Just putting myself in bad spots every inning, and just making it a lot tougher on these guys to fight back and win ballgames. It starts with me, and it didn't start well."

Nicholas' three-run jack

Astros starters have posted a 5.74 ERA with nine quality starts in 17 games since the All-Star break, including an 8.88 ERA through the last turn in the rotation, which covers their season-long five-game losing streak. Astros starters are 2-8 with a 6.62 ERA in their last 16 games.

"Hopefully Dallas can get us back on track [Sunday], but it starts with the starting pitcher," said Fiers, who struggled with fastball command Saturday. "I think we need to really go out there and attack these hitters and not give them too much credit and just be aggressive and things will start turning our way. It's a rough stretch right now, but we'll be able to pull through and go back on a run."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch hasn't had many strong options in the bullpen in the second half, in part because of injuries and the ineffectiveness of his starters. Houston's relievers have a 5.58 ERA in the team's last 21 games, though they've allowed only four runs in 16 2/3 innings (2.16 ERA) during the five-game skid.

"Times like this will always feel miserable, bleak, frustrating, but every team goes through them," he said. "While you're going through them, they're hard to describe. It's the same thing over and over again, there's mistakes being made, there's frustration starting to come out. When you come out of it, you feel pretty good about it.

"At the end of the day, we've got to stay positive and keep working and correct a few things to do better. We obviously need better results, but I've never seen anyone go through what we're going through, like every team does, and feel good about it."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.