Astros still have growing pains

So the Astros won’t finish at .500. Sunday’s loss guaranteed the local nine would finish with a losing record for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four years, but there’s not much the Astros can do in the final week of the season that could spoil the strides they made in the second half.

Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Pirates was reminiscent of the first two months of the season, when the club didn’t do enough offensively to make up for its mistakes. J.A. Happ pitched a terrific game and wound up with a loss because of a costly fielding miscue and a woeful performance by the bullpen.

In addition to the error by catcher Jason Castro, who couldn’t handle a late throw by third baseman Chris Johnson, the Astros weren’t sharp on defense in the eighth inning, when the Pirates scored four runs to put the game away. Houston is 2-5 on its final road trip with one stop left in Cincinnati.

“It’s been a frustrating trip so far,” Johnson said. “We know what kind of team we have and we know we should be winning some of these games. But we’re not doing the little things. We’re throwing the ball around on defense and not coming up with timely hits. You lose when you do that.”

In the sixth inning Sunday, the Pirates were trailing 1-0 and had runners at first and third base with one out. Ronny Cedeno hit a ground ball to third base, where Johnson fielded it and turned his attention to Garrett Jones heading for home. Johnson threw home, but Castro couldn’t handle the ball and was charged with an error. It led to the Pirates scoring two unearned runs to take the lead for good.

“I hate to say it because it’s not an excuse, but it’s on the learning curve,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “When you go through it a few times – that’s the first time maybe for C.J. this year – but it’s not the first time some of other infielders, so it’s part of the learning curve we’re going through unfortunately.”

Castro was charged with the error, but Mills said Johnson should have gotten rid of the ball right away instead of hesitating and allowing Jones to get so close to Castro.

“There’s no doubt we have to tighten up some things,” Mills said. “It’s kind of something that was happening early in the year when we weren’t scoring enough runs to make up for those mistakes. That’s kind of the way it was today.”


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