Astros At Rock Bottom

(Getty Images) Happ is on a 10-game winless streak

The Astros keep muddling along into one worst after another.

They hit the All-Star break with a 30-62 record that takes salvaging this season out of the equation.

"There's no doubt, it is a good mental break," Astros manager Brad Mills said of the All-Star break. "Hopefully we can use it and be fresh, crisp, as we move into that second half."

The Astros are 32 games below .500 for the first time since the final day of the 1991 season (65-97). They've lost four in a row, nine of 10, 14 of 16, 28 of 35.

"We've got to find some rhythm, have something to turn it all around and make it fun again," All-Star right fielder Hunter Pence said.

"We're pressing, and that doesn't help with the circumstance because in baseball you can't press. Little things will start bouncing our way soon, and we'll get this whole group headed in the right direction. That's the goal every day: Get the spark, and let's try to hold onto it."

The Astros hit the break 11th out of 16 National League teams in runs scored, 16th in runs allowed, 16th in fielding. The only position players younger than 27 on the active roster are first baseman Brett Wallace (24) and third baseman Chris Johnson (26). Two members of the starting rotation are younger than 27: Bud Norris (26) and Jordan Lyles (20).

Half of the regular position players are in their 30s: left fielder Carlos Lee, shortstop Clint Barmes, second baseman Jeff Keppinger and catcher Humberto Quintero. So, too, are the two starting pitchers who began the season at the top of the rotation, right-hander Brett Myers and left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.

"This break, I'm not going to say it comes at the right time, but we need it," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "Clear our heads and just get our minds off it.

"It's something you can be down about, but there's no reason to be. It's behind us now. We know we haven't been playing well. We know that fact is well-known. We've got to put this behind his, go enjoy your break with whoever you might enjoy it with, and come back ready Friday."

General manager Ed Wade said he'll be working the phones with increasing fervor as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. By then, Wade said, more teams will have a better idea if they're buyers or sellers.

"My approach at the trading deadline has always been pretty consistent: Try to reach out to all 29 clubs, and we'll do that," Wade said. "We're not afraid to have conversations, because we know at the end of the day, we always have the opportunity to say no."

NOTES, QUOTES
--RHP Bud Norris will move up into the No. 2 spot in the rotation when the Astros return from the All-Star break. Manager Brad Mills said he'll reset the rotation in the following order: RHP Brett Myers, Norris, LHP Wandy Rodriguez, RHP Jordan Lyles, LHP J.A. Happ. Myers will be working on five days' rest when the Astros resume play Friday against Pittsburgh. Norris, who had been No. 3 in the rotation, will be pitching on nine days' rest. Rodriguez, who started Sunday's game against the Marlins, will get a six-day break between outings.

"We didn't want to change it too much," Mills said. "With Wandy throwing (Sunday), it gives him another day. And we didn't want to give Bud another day."

--LHP J.A. Happ, who is in the throes of a 10-start winless streak, drops from fourth to fifth in the rotation. Manager Brad Mills said Happ, who has been working on some mechanical adjustments designed to produce a more consistent release point, will throw to live hitters during the team's Thursday workout at Minute Maid Park. Largely because Happ is averaging 4.77 walks per nine innings, he's having a hard time working deep into games.

"It's not just him," Mills said. "Our starters really seem to expend a lot of pitches early in the game. These guys are up around 100 after five innings all the time. We have 20-, 25-pitch innings. We need to get that number down to be able to extend these guys later."

--LF Carlos Lee wasn't in the starting lineup for the Astros' 5-4 loss to the Marlins on Sunday despite a .314 average and 11 RBI in his previous 14 games. Brian Bogusevic got the start in left field, while Matt Downs batted in Lee's cleanup spot and started at second base in place of Jeff Keppinger (1-for-12 the previous three games). Downs, making his first start since July 4, went 1-for-4 and scored a first-inning run. Bogusevic was hitless in two at-bats, grounding into a double play.

"I had talked with Carlos earlier about getting one of the last two days off," manager Brad Mills said. "It's hot -- extremely hot -- down here, No. 1, and Bogusevic needs a day. We talked about it and felt (Sunday) would be better than (Saturday) night."

Lee popped out as a pinch hitter.

--RF Hunter Pence gave himself a 2-for-4 sendoff to the All-Star Game on Sunday, hitting an eighth-inning home run. Pence hits the All-Star break with a .323-11-60 Triple Crown line. It is the second All-Star honor for Pence, who got chosen for the team in 2009 but didn't get in the game. "I'm looking forward to the Home Run Derby," Pence said. "I love the Home Run Derby. My family really enjoys it. It's exciting to see it with them, share it with them. The pregame ceremony is pretty cool, with the flyover."

--LHP Wandy Rodriguez lost for the second time of in a seven-game road trip, allowing five hits, five walks and five runs in 5 1/3 innings Sunday at Florida. Rodriguez (6-6) allowed 10 runs in 11 1/3 innings in the two losses, raising his ERA from 2.97 to 3.52.

--RHP Brett Myers' exit after 4 1/3 innings in a 6-1 loss to the Marlins on Saturday was the first time in 52 starts as an Astro that he failed to get at least 15 outs. It was his earliest exit since he went 4 1/3 innings in a Sept. 24, 2008, start for the Phillies.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Times the Astros walked the leadoff batter of the game during their four-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins. In 21 1/3 innings, Astros starters walked 19 batters and allowed 20 earned runs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know. I usually talk to myself because I'm kind of a messed-up individual, I guess. I have a loose screw sometimes, especially when I cross the lines. I don't know what I was saying to myself. I can't even think about it." -- RHP Brett Myers, asked what he was saying when he talked to himself while walking off the mound at the end of an inning during his Saturday start against the Marlins.

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