Lee's injury can't keep Astros from win

Lee's injury can't keep Astros from win

CINCINNATI -- On a night the Astros lost their best hitter, they still found a way to win.

That's due mostly to the mastery of Brian Moehler, who limited the Reds to five hits over seven innings as the Astros prevailed, 3-1, beating the Reds for the third straight game Saturday at Great American Ball Park.

Despite losing Carlos Lee to a broken finger in the third inning, the Astros pushed through behind the strength of their starting pitcher, who extended his winning streak to three while lengthening his scoreless innings streak to 11.

"You can't get much better than that," manager Cecil Cooper said.

Moehler allowed two hits and threw only 59 pitches through the first six innings. Javier Valentin led off the third with a base hit, and Jay Bruce knocked a two-out single in the fourth. That was it until the seventh, when the Reds showed brief life against Moehler, scoring once on an infield single by Edwin Encarnacion.

"The guy throws strikes, he moves it around the zone," Cooper said. "His command was good again tonight. That's what Moehler has to do, and that's what he's been doing.

"He gets ahead [with] strike one. I think only one inning he got behind three or four hitters. That was it, he's been lights-out, in the strike zone, making them hit the ball, not really walking hitters. When he does that, he's very effective."

Moehler started the season as the last reliever out of the 'pen, after making the team as a non-roster invitee. But five months later, few starters have been more reliable than the 36-year-old veteran of 13 big league seasons.

While many point to Moehler's season as one of the best feel-good stories of the year, the right-hander takes his success in stride, indicating he just needed an opportunity. He's had chances over the years, but injuries have often stopped him from really solidifying his presence in a starting rotation.

"You never forget how to pitch," Moehler said. "People joke and say, 'Man, you must have thrown hard when you were younger.' My velocity is the same as it's always been. I had a couple shoulder surgeries, elbow surgery and I missed some time, I broke a bone in my foot in '06. I've just never really gotten the opportunity, and last year, I was in the bullpen. I always felt if I got the opportunity, I could still do it."

And he's doing it with consistency. Moehler has held opponents to two or fewer runs in four of his last five starts, and he's allowed three runs over his last three. His 3.83 ERA is lowest of all Astros starting pitchers.

Against the Reds, Moehler contributed offensively as well. He logged his first base hit of the year and his first since singling off Aaron Harang in Cincinnati last May when he doubled off Arroyo to lead off the fifth.

Moehler moved to third on Kazuo Matsui's sacrifice bunt and scored when Arroyo's pitch sailed past catcher Paul Bako.

Lance Berkman drove in the first run in the opening frame with a base hit to right. The Astros went ahead 3-0 in the seventh behind a Miguel Tejada solo shot off Jeremy Affeldt.

The Astros have won 11 of their last 15 games and could sweep the four-game set Sunday. After sputtering through a 10-14 July, the Astros are 7-2 in August.

"We're feeling good now," Tejada said. "We have to give the credit to the pitching. They're pitching great games and if they go past the sixth inning we have a chance."

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