The struggling Astros face Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night as the teams play a makeup game from their rain-shortened first series.
Houston (9-8) lost the final two contests of a three-game set with Milwaukee over the weekend, dropping it 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. The Astros had won five in a row and eight of nine.
“We fought back and made a game out of it, and we had a chance,” Astros manager Phil Garner said after a 4-3 loss Sunday. “Keep doing it, and we’re going to get it done a lot of times.”
Houston now faces Philadelphia (6-11) in a makeup of an April 15 postponement, the finale of a three-game series. They split the first two games, with the Astros taking the opener 9-6 and the Phillies winning 8-5 in the second game.
The Astros and Monday’s starter Chris Sampson (2-0, 1.20 ERA) may be making up the game against Howard and the Phillies at a bad time. Philadelphia won its second straight Sunday, with Howard homering in his first game back from injury in a 9-3 victory over Cincinnati.
Howard, who missed the last three games with a sprained ligament just below his left knee, is batting .220 with two home runs and 10 RBIs. The first baseman hit 58 homers last season.
“It was good to see Ryan pop one out,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. “The fly ball to center field says he’s about ready to break loose. I have a feeling he’ll hit a few more.”
Sampson will try to keep Howard from doing it against him.
After opening the season in the bullpen, Sampson has won his first two starts. He gave up his first two runs of the year in his last outing - both on home runs - and allowed five hits in seven innings of a 7-2 win over Cincinnati on Wednesday night.
The right-hander did not receive a decision or give up a run in one start and one relief appearance against the Phillies last season, allowing three hits in 5 2-3 innings. Those were his first two appearances against Philadelphia.
The Phillies will counter with Adam Eaton (1-1, 6.62 ERA), who struggled in his last start, giving up four runs in six innings of a 5-4 loss to Washington on Wednesday night. Eaton was hit on his right pinkie by a batted ball but stayed in the game.
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.05 ERA in four starts against the Astros, but hasn’t faced them since Sept. 5, 2003. Houston second baseman Craig Biggio is batting .462 (6-for-13) against Eaton.
The Astros have won 10 of their last 12 at Philadelphia, averaging 6.3 runs in that span.
Both teams will move on to three-game series starting Tuesday night, with Houston visiting Pittsburgh and Philadelphia hosting Washington.