After a 2-0 start, the Houston Astros have returned to old form. The same can be said about Melky Cabrera.
The hot-hitting left fielder and the rest of the Toronto Blue Jays will try to again take advantage of the Astros’ struggling lineup and bullpen Wednesday night in the second of a three-game series at Rogers Centre.
Cabrera has homered in four straight games, which means his eight-game total from this year has already surpassed his 88-game mark of three from a season ago. He also has an eight-game hitting streak to start the season and a six-game one against Houston.
After being slowed in 2013 with leg injuries before having a benign tumor removed from his spine Aug. 30, he’s now out to become the first Blue Jay to homer in five straight games since Jose Cruz Jr. went deep in six in a row Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2001.
"I feel 100 percent now and I’m ready to go. It’s good. I don’t have any pain now," said Cabrera, who hit .346 in 113 games for San Francisco in 2012 before being suspended 50 games for violating the MLB drug program.
The Blue Jays (4-4) send Brandon Morrow to the mound for his second start after he lost 7-2 at Tampa Bay on Thursday. The hard-throwing right-hander pitched five innings while allowing four runs and seven hits. It was his first start since May 28, after which he was shut down due to an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm.
"It was just one of those things where you think you threw better than the end results," Morrow said.
His only start against Houston was a no-decision May 21, 2011, in which he yielded four runs and nine hits in six innings. Another shot at the Astros (3-5) might be just what Morrow needs to get his season headed in the right direction.
After Tuesday’s series-opening 5-2 loss, Houston has scored 14 runs and batted .197 in the last six games. It has been held to two runs or less in each of the five losses in that span.
The bullpen has made it impossible for that level of run production to hold up with a 7.29 ERA and .308 opponents’ batting average in those six games.
"We had our opportunities," said manager Bo Porter, whose team left 10 on base and is batting .121 with runners in scoring position after an 0-for-14 effort Tuesday. "We had men on base, we had men on third base with less than two outs and when you get into those situations, you’ve got to capitalize."
They’ll hope for Lucas Harrell to limit the bullpen’s innings in his second start, but such effective outings have been rare for him.
In his first start of the season, Harrell showed why he led the AL with 17 losses in 2013 despite starting just 22 games. The right-hander made it through three innings of an 11-1 home loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, allowing five runs and seven hits with three walks. He also led the majors last year with 88 walks in 153 2-3 innings.
Houston outfielder Dexter Fowler has been out of the starting lineup the last five games because of a stomach virus but hopes to return Wednesday. He pinch-hit in the eighth Tuesday, grounding into a fielder’s choice, and played center field in the bottom of the inning.
Fowler is batting .462 with a home run, two doubles and a triple in his first season with the Astros.