Bullpen falters late as Astros fall to Rangers
Five relievers combine to allow six runs over final two innings
HOUSTON -- Astros relief pitcher Josh Zeid said all the right things and handled himself like a professional Friday night when he faced the media for the first time after losing a game while wearing a Major League uniform.
The hope for the Astros is the maturity and professionalism their young relievers have shown off the field in what has been a difficult few weeks for the bullpen will begin to come through on the mound, where they've had an awfully tough time protecting leads.
The Astros' bullpen couldn't back up a solid outing by starter Erik Bedard for the second game in a row and gave up four runs in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth en route to a 9-5 loss to the Rangers at Minute Maid Park.
"You want to be thrown into the fire," said Zeid, who took the loss in his sixth Major League game. "You want to feel like you're ready; you want to feel like you're able to pitch in these games. It's always nice to get your feet wet any way you can. I feel like I belong. I feel like this whole team belongs. We just have to play better."
The blown save in the eighth inning was the first of Zeid's career, but the fifth for the Astros in six opportunities since they traded closer Jose Veras to the Tigers on July 29. The Astros have blown 20 saves this year, which is one more than their total in 2012.
"Same script, different day," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "It's one of those things at some point you feel like we're going to have to come out of this funk, and all you can do is keep giving them an opportunity."
Porter is working with a seven-man bullpen that features five rookies -- two who made their Major League debuts during Friday's messy eighth inning. That's when the Rangers sent nine batters to the plate and turned a 4-3 deficit into a 7-4 lead, thanks to four walks and two hits.
"You know the 25 guys you're going into battle with before you start the game," Porter said. "I understand exactly who we have down there. I know the options, and the best thing you can do from a manager's standpoint is put them in position to be successful, and the success or failure is going to happen on the ball field. We have not been that successful out of the bullpen as of late."
Zeid (0-1) started the eighth by walking Ian Kinsler and allowing an RBI single to Adrian Beltre to tie the game, and the Rangers were just getting started. They scored four times against five Houston relievers, including Jurickson Profar drawing a bases-loaded walk against Wesley Wright to take the lead. Wright was pulled after giving up a two-run double to Leonys Martin with the bases loaded that pushed the lead to 7-4.
"You never want to walk the leadoff batter in an inning," Zeid said. "That puts you in a hole that you pretty much can't get out of, but after that I thought I made some pretty good pitches to Beltre. It's tough when you spoil a win for Erik. He pitched a great ballgame and it feels terrible. It doesn't matter how many games you win or lose a year. Any time it happens, you still feel terrible."
Bedard, who pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed three runs and seven hits, hasn't won a game since June 26. But he hasn't pitched poorly, going 0-5 with a 3.98 ERA in his seven starts since beating the Cardinals more than six weeks ago.
The bullpen has blown one-run leads in Bedard's last two starts.
"They're trying," he said. "They're doing the best they can to throw strikes and get people out, and unfortunately today didn't work out."
Houston's starting pitchers have gotten the job done pretty consistently. Astros starters have posted a 3.74 ERA in the team's last 11 games, during which the club is 2-9. There have been five blown saves in that span.
"I personally feel sorry for our starters," Porter said. "They're not going to show it because they're good teammates. They understand these guys are trying. These guys are competitors and they know at any moment they can go out there and give it up and the bullpen has to pick up six, seven innings.
"It comes with the territory, but at the same time our starters have done a really good job of keeping us in the game or putting us in position to win games. From a bullpen standpoint, we have not done a good job of holding leads or closing games out."
The Astros built a 4-2 lead through five innings against Rangers starter Matt Garza on the strength of solo homers by Jason Castro (445 feet) in the second and Brandon Barnes (431 feet) in the fifth, and consecutive doubles by L.J. Hoes, Jose Altuve and Castro in the fourth.
"I think Castro hit the farthest ball in my career," said Garza, who improved to 8-2 overall. "I was just lucky to go seven innings. Today I was the good guy. I could have been the bad guy, but I was the good guy."