Reds-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

The surging Cincinnati Reds were cooled off during their last series.

Facing the struggling Houston Astros might help them get back on track.

The visiting Reds hope to bounce back from their first losing series in more than two weeks Friday night when they try to extend the Astros' longest skid of the season to seven games.

Cincinnati (28-22) had won eight of nine to move past St. Louis into first place in the NL Central before losing two of three at Pittsburgh. The Reds still maintain a 1 1/2-game lead in the division, but they are eager to turn things around.

"I think just being consistent can keep us right in the thick of things for the whole year," starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo told the Reds' official website.

The Reds' recorded 12 hits Tuesday in their lone victory at Pittsburgh - an 8-1 win - but combined for two runs and 10 hits in their losses to the Pirates.

"We still have holes in our roster," said second baseman Brandon Phillips, who went 2 for 11 in the series.

Joey Votto got a rest from the starting lineup in Wednesday's series finale but delivered a pinch-hit single in Cincinnati's 2-1 defeat. Votto, 12 for 23 in his last seven contests, is batting .467 with four homers and 16 RBIs during an 18-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park.

Though the Reds dropped three of four games at Houston in 2011, they took two of three from the Astros at home last month.

Cincinnati starter Mike Leake (1-5, 5.47 ERA) will aim for a better outing Friday after giving up 13 runs - 10 earned - in 7 1-3 innings to lose his last two starts versus Houston. The right-hander allowed six runs - three earned - in 3 2-3 innings of a 6-4 loss to the Astros on April 27.

Leake threw 84 pitches in only 3 2-3 innings against Colorado on Saturday, allowing three runs in a game the Reds went on to win 10-3.

Houston first baseman Carlos Lee is 1 for 12 against Leake, and 5 for 42 (.119) in his last 13 games versus Cincinnati. However, the veteran is batting .308 this season at home, where the Astros (22-29) are 16-10.

They should be glad to see Minute Maid Park again after dropping the final six contests on their seven-game trip to fall to 6-19 on the road this season. The skid is the longest for Houston since it lost seven in a row Aug. 9-15.

The Astros are coming off a four-game sweep at Colorado in which they were outscored 40-23 and their starting pitchers posted a 14.04 ERA.

J.A. Happ (4-4, 4.37) hopes to provide a better outing when he takes the mound in the series opener. The left-hander has yielded only one run over 12 innings while winning his last two home starts.

He allowed three runs and struck out a season-high 10 in 6 1-3 innings Sunday, but his teammates were held to two hits in a 5-1 loss at Los Angeles.

"He's getting a lot of guys to swing at balls that are just off the plate," manager Brad Mills told the Astros' official website. "If he happens to get a couple calls just off the plate ... then he can expand the plate, and he's all that much tougher."

Happ is 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA in four starts against the Reds, but has never faced them in Houston.

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve posted his second straight three-hit game in Thursday's 11-5 loss at Colorado. He's batting .353 in his last seven games, and is 6 for 18 in his last four against Cincinnati.

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