A rain delay Saturday placed a lot of pressure on the bullpens of the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. Given the way Wandy Rodriguez is pitching, the Astros hope he can provide the relievers with a break.
Rodriguez, among the major league leaders in ERA, takes the mound Sunday when Houston closes its three-game set in Atlanta.
The Astros (10-14) and Braves (11-12) have split the first two games of the series, with Houston winning 5-1 on Saturday. A one-hour, 37-minute rain delay forced both starting pitchers from the game early, with Roy Oswalt going only one inning.
Oswalt’s short outing led to another early call to the Houston bullpen. On Friday, Mike Hampton lasted only 4 1-3 innings in a 7-2 loss.
With the relievers pitching heavy innings in this series, Astros manager Cecil Cooper will hand the ball to Rodriguez (2-2, 1.69 ERA) on Sunday, hoping he can continue his impressive start to the season.
The left-hander, who has pitched at least six innings in each of his five starts, is coming off another solid outing Tuesday when he beat Cincinnati by allowing one run and five hits in seven innings of an 8-3 win. Rodriguez, who went 9-7 last season with a career-best 3.54 ERA, has allowed three runs in the last three starts, spanning 20 innings.
“He’s come a long way since ’05 when I first got over here,” Cooper said. “Last year in the second half he was excellent, and he’s started out this year the same way. Five quality starts.”
Rodriguez beat the Braves the last time he faced them, allowing an unearned run and four hits in seven innings of a 3-1 home victory Sept. 28. He was 1-1 with an 8.80 ERA in his previous three starts versus the Braves, including 0-1 with a 9.90 ERA in two outings at Turner Field.
The Astros are looking to build on a solid offensive game Saturday. Houston had 12 hits with Hunter Pence going 3-for-4 and Lance Berkman hitting a first-inning home run. The Astros went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position Friday after being limited to one hit against Cincinnati on Wednesday.
“We finally got some big hits for a change,” Cooper said.
Atlanta, meanwhile, is trying to avoid losing a third straight series at home. After sweeping Washington from April 10-12, the Braves have scored 22 runs over their last eight contests at Turner Field, going 2-6. They managed seven hits Saturday, scoring their only run on a wild pitch in the second inning.
“Avoiding over-frustration is important right now,” said Chipper Jones, whose error in the fourth led to three runs. “Because I’m teetering on breaking something myself.”
Jones is 0-for-6 in this series and has gone six straight games without an RBI.
Jo-Jo Reyes (0-1, 4.26) takes the mound for Atlanta in the finale. The left-hander lost his final seven decisions in 2008 and his first in 2009, but he pitched well against St. Louis on Tuesday, allowing one run and three hits in seven innings of a 2-1 win.
“That’s the best ball game I’ve seen Jo-Jo throw,” manager Bobby Cox said. “He’s just started getting the idea that he’s a pitcher, not a flame-thrower. It’s just a work in progress.”
Reyes hasn’t won since June 13 against the Angels and doesn’t have a victory against an NL team since May 3, 2008, against the Reds. He’s trying to avoid becoming the first Braves pitcher to have nine straight losses since Marty Clary in 1990.
Reyes is 1-1 with a 6.43 ERA in three starts against the Astros.