Rockies-Astros Preview

The Houston Astros’ J.A. Happ struggled immensely before he was

optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City early last month.

That brief minor-league stint, however, seems to have made a

world of difference for the left-hander.

Happ tries for a season-best third straight winning decision

when he faces the Colorado Rockies, who hope to avoid matching

their longest losing streak in more than six years Saturday night

at Minute Maid Park.

Happ (6-15, 5.48 ERA), the main piece acquired from Philadelphia

in last year’s Roy Oswalt deal, has failed to live up to

expectations. He was hit hard during an eight-start span June

20-Aug. 5, allowing at least five runs in each outing while

compiling an 8.92 ERA.

Happ was sent to the minors Aug. 6 as a result of that

disappointing stretch. However, he has shined since getting

recalled 18 days later, going 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA in five

starts.

After limiting his former team to one run and four hits in six

innings of a 5-2 victory Sept. 13, Happ struck out a season-high

nine over six innings but didn’t factor in the decision of Monday’s

3-2 win at Cincinnati.

“I felt like I was in a good comfort zone,” he said. “I was able

to throw my off-speed stuff early, which makes my fastball better.

I felt pretty good. It’s good when you have confidence in your

pitches. That’s the difference between a solid and not-so-solid

outing.”

A matchup with Happ seems less than ideal for a Colorado team

looking to avoid losing 10 straight for the first time since April

24-May 7, 2005. Happ is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two career starts

against the Rockies (70-87), both of which came with the Phillies.

He fanned a career-best 10 and threw a four-hitter during a 7-0 win

Aug. 5, 2009.

Colorado, which dropped a franchise-worst 13 in a row in 1993,

couldn’t get much going at the plate Friday against Brett Myers,

who threw six innings of one-run ball during Houston’s 11-2 rout.

Carlos Lee drove in four runs for the second consecutive night as

the Astros (55-102) won for the fourth time in five home games.

“He’s swinging the bat extremely well to be where he is,”

manager Brad Mills said of Lee.

Lee, batting .344 with two homers and 15 RBIs over his last

eight meetings in the series, could be hard-pressed to post big

numbers versus Jason Hammel (7-13, 4.85), against whom he is 1 for

10 lifetime.

Hammel is scheduled to make just his second start since Aug. 19

after working primarily out of the bullpen for the last month. He

compiled a 1.74 ERA over five relief appearances, earning another

turn in the rotation.

“Obviously, I’m very, very excited,” Hammel told the Rockies’

official website. “They’ve acknowledged that I’ve been working hard

through September, and a lot of that credit goes to (manager Jim

Tracy). There was nothing mechanical – more between the ears. I’m

just going to go out and keep working on it.”

In his most recent start, Hammel yielded two runs – one earned –

and six hits in seven innings of an 8-3 win over Arizona on Sept.

6. He’s won his last two starts against the Astros while recording

a 1.26 ERA.