Moehler hit hard in Astros loss

Moehler hit hard in Astros loss to Braves

ATLANTA -- The Astros know they have a lot of work to do during their final road swing before the All-Star break, given their record and their standing in the National League Central.

But the only thing they accomplished on Friday in Atlanta was securing their low positioning in the division race. After losing to the Braves at Turner Field, 6-2, the Astros swapped places with Cincinnati and took over last place, 12 games behind the first-place Cubs.

With Chris Sampson abandoning his bullpen role to return to the rotation for one day in place of Roy Oswalt Saturday, Brian Moehler knew he needed to pitch deep into this game. He held up that end of the bargain, logging six innings.

But unfortunately for the Astros, the right-hander ended his string of stingy outings at three games, allowing five runs, including a two-run homer to Kelly Johnson in the fifth inning that gave the Braves the comfortable four-run lead.

Location was an issue for Moehler all night. Two of the three walks he issued -- both of which led off innings -- turned into Braves runs.

"That's tough to overcome most of the time on a good hitting lineup," manager Cecil Cooper said.

Moehler's outing was in stark contrast to his previous three, which were nearly identical -- the first two, he yielded one run over 6 1/3 innings, and more recently against the Red Sox, he gave up one over 5 2/3.

The loss Friday evened the righty's record to 4-4.

"I'd get two strikes on a guy, get to 3-2 and walk him," Moehler said. "I just couldn't finish guys tonight. Just everything was up tonight. I didn't get the ball down tonight."

The home run ball that Johnson hit was a changeup that caught the middle of the plate -- "right in his swingpath," Moehler said. "That's where he likes the ball.

"I didn't locate well tonight at all."

But even a better effort may not have mattered. The Astros offense sputtered against Braves righty Tim Hudson, who improved to 9-4 after holding the Astros to one run over seven innings.

Lance Berkman contributed two hits and drove in the club's only run against Hudson with a base hit to left in the sixth, scoring Darin Erstad from second.

Prior to that inning, Hudson held the Astros to two hits and a walk.

"You have to give him some credit," Cooper said. "That's a quality pitcher. If he's down in the zone like he was tonight, hitting his spots, it's pretty hard to handle a guy like that. Especially if you give him a cushion to work with."

The Astros squandered a big opportunity with one out in the eighth inning after Carlos Lee, facing Jeff Bennett, walked the bases loaded. Miguel Tejada knocked a liner toward Johnson that appeared to be headed straight for the second baseman's glove, but instead, it bounced.

The baserunners, assuming Tejada's ball was a lineout, were frozen, giving Johnson plenty of time to throw to shortstop Yunel Escobar for the first out. Escobar then threw to third for the inning-ending double play.

Erstad crossed the plate before the out at third was completed, so the run counted.

Tejada, who was not credited with an RBI, found little solace in his "run-scoring" play. After all, the shortstop is mired in a slump that has extended one month. He hit .227 in June and has two hits in 17 at-bats over the first four games in July.

Since June 1, his average has slipped from .312 to .282.

"I'm in trouble right now," Tejada said. "This is kind of like nothing is working out for me right now.

"It looks like the pitchers are making a good pitch to get me. Right now it's pretty tough to be the same Miguel Tejada I've ever been. I'm going to be there tomorrow and I'm going to keep pushing and I'm going to keep swinging the bat the way that I do, and one day, everything will change. I hope it doesn't take too long."

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