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Reds-Astros Preview

AP - Sports

Based on the way Bronson Arroyo has pitched of late, he should give the Cincinnati Reds a good chance to bounce back from a frustrating defeat.

The veteran right-hander can win five consecutive starts for the first time in four years Sunday in the NL Central-leading Reds' decisive series finale against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

Arroyo (11-7, 3.84 ERA) is 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA since he gave up five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 6-3 loss at Milwaukee on Aug. 6. He allowed two runs and also hit a tiebreaking homer over six innings of a 3-2 win at Arizona on Monday.

"Things are kind of working out a little bit,'' said Arroyo, who last won five straight starts June 29-July 23, 2008. "I'm feeling good, but I've been feeling good all year.''

Arroyo, however, was 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA in his previous nine starts against the Astros (41-92) before he gave up five runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-3 loss at Houston on June 3.

Looking for a better effort in Texas, Arroyo tries to help Cincinnati (81-53) rebound after Saturday's 2-1 loss. Second baseman Wilson Valdez's error with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth helped the Astros snap a six-game skid. Valdez was playing after Brandon Phillips was ejected in the eighth for arguing balls and strikes.

"These games are emotional, and we just have to put this one behind us," manager Dusty Baker said.

The loss was the Reds' third in 12 road contests, and snapped a four-game winning streak at Minute Maid Park.

Ryan Ludwick drove in the lone run for Cincinnati, which averaged 6.7 runs over the previous three games. Ludwick is 3 for 13 with five strikeouts in his last four games, but 6 for 18 (.333) against scheduled Houston starter Bud Norris (5-11, 5.01).

Though the right-hander is 0-10 with a 6.33 ERA in 15 starts since beating the Chicago Cubs at home on May 21, he has a 2.09 ERA while going 3-1 in nine starts at Minute Maid Park during a season that included a stint on the disabled list with a sprained knee. Norris has allowed five runs and struck 21 over 20 2-3 innings while not earning a decision in his last three at home.

Despite a blister on his middle finger, Norris yielded only a solo homer in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-2 home loss to San Francisco on Tuesday.

"I've had it on and off in my career," Norris told the Astros' official website about the blister.. "It's going to be OK. I've just got to manage it."

He is 0-2 with a 5.61 ERA in five starts versus Cincinnati, but allowed a run and fanned seven in seven innings of a 5-3 home loss to the Reds on July 25.

Justin Maxwell hit his 13th homer Saturday for Houston, which has not won two in a row since Aug. 10-11.

"This game is about winning baseball games and I'm really excited about what's going to happen here the next month,'' said interim manager Tony DeFrancesco, who is 2-10 since replacing the fired Brad Mills.

Three of Maxwell's five hits in his last 22 at-bats versus Cincinnati have left the park.

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