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Harrell, Astros can't get on track against Jays

Right-hander lasts just 4 1/3 frames in second consecutive rough start
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TORONTO -- Lucas Harrell's struggles from last season have spilled over to 2014.

Since a breakout campaign in 2012, in which he posted a 3.76 ERA over a career-high 193 2/3 innings, the Astros' starter hasn't been the same pitcher.

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TORONTO -- Lucas Harrell's struggles from last season have spilled over to 2014.

Since a breakout campaign in 2012, in which he posted a 3.76 ERA over a career-high 193 2/3 innings, the Astros' starter hasn't been the same pitcher.

View Full Game Coverage

Harrell was roughed up for the second consecutive start, while the Astros' offense was unable to climb back from an early deficit in a 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

"I didn't throw very well," said Harrell, who sports an ERA of 11.05 after two outings. "The first inning, I came out a little sluggish and left some balls out over the plate, and they made some hits."

In his first outing this season, Harrell only managed to work three innings and allowed seven runs by the time he exited the contest. For a pitcher looking to put the 2013 season -- and his 5.86 ERA -- behind him, it was not the start he needed.

Unfortunately for Harrell and the Astros, he wasn't much better against the Blue Jays.

The righty allowed back-to-back one-out hits in the first inning, the second was an RBI double by Jose Bautista that gave Toronto a 1-0 lead. Adam Lind then drove in Bautista with a base hit two batters later, and the Astros exited the first inning in a 2-0 hole.

Harrell worked out of some trouble in the following innings until Toronto got to him again in the fifth. Harrell allowed three runs -- two earned -- in the frame, and wasn't helped out by his defense, either.

With one out and the bases loaded, Harrell induced a grounder off the bat of Dioner Navarro that third baseman Matt Dominguez fielded cleanly before throwing the ball into right field in an attempt to get Lind at second base. The error allowed two runners to score and gave the Blue Jays a commanding 5-0 lead.

Instead of a potential inning-ending double play, which would have kept the score at 3-0, the Astros fell behind large and Harrell's night ended.

Harrell deflected the blame off Dominguez, calling him the club's best defensive infielder, and manager Bo Porter agreed. While Harrell did his job to get the ball on the ground in that situation, it was easy for the team to let Dominguez off the hook.

"If I had to pick one guy on our team that I want the ball hit to in a given situation, I would pick Matt Dominguez 100 out of 100 times," Porter said.

Harrell's rough outing marked the second consecutive start he did not pitch five innings. He allowed five runs -- four earned -- on seven hits, walked three and struck out a pair to fall to 0-2.

On a positive note, Harrell said he was happy the game didn't unravel from him sooner than it did after giving up a two-spot in the first inning. Harrell felt he made some big pitches when he had to, and credited catcher Jason Castro for calling a strong game behind the plate.

Porter thought Harrell was better on Wednesday than he was against the Angels his first start and said his ability to get the ball on the ground with his two-seam fastball, his primary offering, was the difference.

"I felt like he did a better job of establishing the strike zone," Porter said. "He was back to sinking the ball and getting ground balls."

Harrell, who entered the start with the third-best ground ball to fly ball ratio in the American League since 2012, recorded eight outs on the ground compared to two in the air.

The Astros' bats, meanwhile, struggled to do much of anything against Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow until late in the game.

Morrow breezed through the first three innings, retiring nine straight Astros, six on strikeouts. The righty was pounding the strike zone with a fastball that reached as high as 98 mph and a hard slider he was getting hitters to swing through.

Houston put its first runner of the game on base in the fourth inning and was threatening with runners on the corners and one out, but Morrow came back to punch out the next two hitters.

It wasn't until the sixth inning that the Astros got to him, scoring on a two-run homer by Alex Presley, his second of the year, and one more on a Chris Carter groundout which plated Jose Altuve from third to make it 5-3. Morrow got through the rest of the frame untouched and lasted six innings on the night, with nine strikeouts.

"I think [Morrow] really established a power fastball and once he established a power fastball, I felt like he got us to expand a little bit with his secondary stuff," Porter said.

The Blue Jays added some insurance in the seventh on a two-run homer by Brett Lawrie, his first of the season, off reliever Josh Zeid to go up, 7-3.

"I was just trying to keep inside the ball, and just finding opportunities to put it in play and put it on the barrel," said Lawrie, who is batting just .121 this season.

Astros right-hander Jerome Williams, who replaced Harrell in the fifth, exited the contest with a right groin strain in the sixth inning.

Houston has lost three consecutive games and will attempt to avoid being swept in Thursday's series finale.

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for

Houston Astros, Matt Dominguez, Lucas Harrell, Alex Presley