Astros-Reds Preview


The Houston Astros took the opener of this weekend's three-game set thanks in part to another impressive display at the plate.

A repeat performance could be difficult with the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Cueto on the hill.

Houston tries to post back-to-back victories in Cincinnati for just the second time in nearly three years when these NL Central rivals square off Saturday afternoon.

While their overall record leaves much to be desired, the Astros (8-12) are hitting an NL-best .302 with runners in scoring position. Houston continued its clutch hitting with a 5-for-13 effort in RBI situations during Friday's 6-4 win over the Reds (9-11).

Second baseman Jose Altuve doubled, tripled and drove in a pair of runs while Jordan Schafer extended his hitting streak to five games with an RBI single.

"Offensively, we had big two-out hits," manager Brad Mills said. "Altuve had a couple two-out hits. Jordan Schafer a big two-out hit. That's what we've been looking for."

The Astros, whose victory was just their sixth in 23 games at Great American Ball Park, could have a hard time putting runs on the board against Cueto.

The right-hander improved to 2-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.78 after giving up two runs - one earned - and five hits over 6 1-3 innings of Sunday's 4-3 road win over the Chicago Cubs.

"I felt (good) the whole time (Sunday)," Cueto said through an interpreter. "I like the way I threw all the pitches because I was aggressive with every single pitch I threw."

While Cueto hit two batters and issued a pair of walks, he managed to avoid any serious damage thanks in part to striking out a season-high seven. Opponents are 3 for 19 with six strikeouts against him this season with runners in scoring position.

"He has a nice slider, changeup. He elevates when he wants to and has something extra on his fastball," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told the Reds' official website.

Although Cueto is 1-5 with a 4.01 lifetime ERA in 10 starts versus Houston, he's allowed three runs or fewer each of the last six times he's faced the Astros. He didn't face them last season.

Houston first baseman Carlos Lee, who is 7 for 22 with two homers off Cueto, is expected to miss at least two games after leaving in the first inning Friday with a sprained left ankle.

"I knew I hurt it pretty good," Lee said. "It takes a lot to get me out of a game. This was one of those games."

The Astros will send Lucas Harrell (1-1, 3.97 ERA) to the hill for his fourth consecutive road start. After throwing seven innings of three-hit ball in a 7-3 home win over Colorado on April 7, Harrell has gone 0-1 with a 5.74 ERA in opposing ballparks.

The right-hander was anything but sharp during Monday's 6-5 loss at Milwaukee, yielding a season-high five runs, five hits and three walks over five innings.

Harrell will need to be wary of Jay Bruce, who along with catcher Devin Mesoraco, hit back-to-back ninth-inning homers Friday. Bruce is batting .368 with five homers and 11 RBIs in 10 home games.