The Astros send out their second rookie starter in as many games Wednesday when the Brewers try to complete a sweep of the three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
The Brewers (78-72) moved three 10-thousandths of a percentage point (.5200-.5197) ahead of the Cubs atop the NL Central following Tuesday’s 9-1 victory, coupled with a 5-2 loss by the Cubs to the Cincinnati Reds. Johnny Estrada hit a grand slam off losing pitcher Felipe Paulino, but Claudio Vargas also delivered a clutch performance after starter Ben Sheets left the game in the second inning with a hamstring injury, pitching four scoreless innings.
“I was telling the guys a few days ago, whoever puts together a good seven-game win streak is probably going to pull away and win this thing,” Estrada said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
But there has been some controversy at Houston with interim manager Cecil Cooper’s decision to start Paulino and Juan Gutierrez (1-1, 6.10 ERA) for this game over staff ace Roy Oswalt and fellow veteran Woody Williams, respectively. Knowing there would be some questions, Astros interim general manager Tal Smith called Cubs counterpart Jim Hendry about the switch, and Cooper—a first baseman on the 1982 Brewers team that won the AL pennant—talked to MLB commissioner Bud Selig.
“He was very professional and I appreciated the call,” Hendry told the Astros’ official Web site. “He’s an honest guy. I don’t think there’s anybody sitting at home in Houston orchestrating it, trying to help the Brewers or the Cubs.”
Oswalt left the team to be with his wife, who gave birth to the couple’s second child Tuesday. While Hendry was diplomatic, one of his players was upset.
“That ticks us off,” Cubs outfielder Cliff Floyd said. “But you can’t help family situations… and Oswalt is having a kid. I don’t understand the Woody Williams deal, but at the same time, I’m not going to question Cecil Cooper’s decision to start a rookie.
“It’s their team, and they can do what they want to do.”
Gutierrez is making his second career major league start and sixth overall appearance. He has made two relief outings since his Aug. 23 start, and notched two hitless innings Saturday against Pittsburgh in a 9-7 victory.
The right-hander, who is making his first appearance against Milwaukee, has allowed seven runs and 13 hits in 10 1-3 innings.
Dave Bush (11-10, 5.34) has just one win in his last six road starts as he takes the mound for Milwaukee. The right-hander was pulled after four innings last Wednesday after giving up four runs and five hits in four innings, not receiving a decision in the Brewers’ 7-4 defeat at Pittsburgh.
Bush has struggled in two starts at Minute Maid Park in 2007, getting tagged for 12 runs and 21 hits in just 11 1-3 innings in going 0-1. He does, however, have two wins at home over the Astros and is 4-1 with a 3.75 ERA in seven starts and eight lifetime appearances versus them.
Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder extended his career-high hitting streak to 16 games with an RBI single. He is 22-for-57 (.386) with seven homers and 14 RBIs during that streak that coincides with the start of September.
Fielder is hitting just .254 (16-for-63) against the Astros this season, but has five homers.