Colorado (70-87) at Houston (55-102)

Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 40° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Sat Sep 24, 2011
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The Houston AstrosJ.A. Happ(notes) struggled immensely before he was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City early last month.

That brief minor-league stint, however, seems to have made a world of difference for the left-hander.

Happ tries for a season-best third straight winning decision when he faces the Colorado Rockies, who hope to avoid matching their longest losing streak in more than six years Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

Happ (6-15, 5.48 ERA), the main piece acquired from Philadelphia in last year’s Roy Oswalt(notes) deal, has failed to live up to expectations. He was hit hard during an eight-start span June 20-Aug. 5, allowing at least five runs in each outing while compiling an 8.92 ERA.

Happ was sent to the minors Aug. 6 as a result of that disappointing stretch. However, he has shined since getting recalled 18 days later, going 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA in five starts.

After limiting his former team to one run and four hits in six innings of a 5-2 victory Sept. 13, Happ struck out a season-high nine over six innings but didn’t factor in the decision of Monday’s 3-2 win at Cincinnati.

“I felt like I was in a good comfort zone,” he said. “I was able to throw my off-speed stuff early, which makes my fastball better. I felt pretty good. It’s good when you have confidence in your pitches. That’s the difference between a solid and not-so-solid outing.”

A matchup with Happ seems less than ideal for a Colorado team looking to avoid losing 10 straight for the first time since April 24-May 7, 2005. Happ is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two career starts against the Rockies (70-87), both of which came with the Phillies. He fanned a career-best 10 and threw a four-hitter during a 7-0 win Aug. 5, 2009.

Colorado, which dropped a franchise-worst 13 in a row in 1993, couldn’t get much going at the plate Friday against Brett Myers(notes), who threw six innings of one-run ball during Houston’s 11-2 rout. Carlos Lee(notes) drove in four runs for the second consecutive night as the Astros (55-102) won for the fourth time in five home games.

“He’s swinging the bat extremely well to be where he is,” manager Brad Mills(notes) said of Lee.

Lee, batting .344 with two homers and 15 RBIs over his last eight meetings in the series, could be hard-pressed to post big numbers versus Jason Hammel(notes) (7-13, 4.85), against whom he is 1 for 10 lifetime.

Hammel is scheduled to make just his second start since Aug. 19 after working primarily out of the bullpen for the last month. He compiled a 1.74 ERA over five relief appearances, earning another turn in the rotation.

“Obviously, I’m very, very excited,” Hammel told the Rockies’ official website. “They’ve acknowledged that I’ve been working hard through September, and a lot of that credit goes to (manager Jim Tracy). There was nothing mechanical - more between the ears. I’m just going to go out and keep working on it.”

In his most recent start, Hammel yielded two runs - one earned - and six hits in seven innings of an 8-3 win over Arizona on Sept. 6. He’s won his last two starts against the Astros while recording a 1.26 ERA.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Hammel ChC vs. J. Happ Sea
7-13 Record 6-15
4.76 ERA 5.35
94 K 134
68 BB 83
1.43 WHIP 1.54

Scoreboard

Saturday, Sep 24