Astros 7, Reds 2
Homer Bailey strengthened his case to make the Cincinnati Reds' opening-day roster with a good day on the mound and at the plate. Bailey pitched six sharp innings and had two hits in a 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Wednesday, making manager Dusty Baker's decision harder when it comes to filling out his final rotation spot. "It was a gutsy performance," Baker said. "It's going to be a hard decision, but that's what you want." Bailey gave up two runs and four hits, struck out eight and walked one. The 22-year-old right-hander is competing with Micah Owings for the fifth spot in the rotation. "I was ready to go back out there for the seventh," Bailey said. "I was able to keep my pitch count down, so I still felt fine. I was pleased with the way I threw and whatever happens happens." Owings has had a solid spring, going 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA in his last six starts. But Bailey's improvement on the mound (2.61 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 20 2-3 innings this spring) has left a good impression. "Micah has thrown the ball well this spring, but Bailey has really improved in his delivery and just his overall output and demeanor on the mound," Baker said. "That's what you like to see out of a young guy. He's found himself and that's one of the toughest things for a young pitcher to do. Is that going to equate to him being on the staff? We're not sure yet." If Owings wins the fifth starter's spot, the Reds could put Bailey in Triple-A Louisville's rotation or use him as a long reliever in their bullpen. Roy Oswalt, who is 23-1 with a 2.47 ERA in his career against the Reds, wrapped up his spring by allowing a run and three hits in four innings. Houston manager Cecil Cooper elected to pinch-hit for Oswalt with the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the fourth. "He was a little lightheaded," Cooper said. "Someone just told me that he hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch today and it was pretty hot out there. This was the first time all spring that I've gone in the dugout during the game." Houston's Michael Bourn went 3-for-3 and swiped two bases to push his Grapefruit League-leading total to 11. Darin Erstad homered for the Astros. Jeff Keppinger, acquired from the Reds on Tuesday, arrived in Kissimmee around game time and replaced second baseman Kaz Matsui in the top of sixth inning. He went 0-for-2 at the plate. "Most of the time when you get traded the team wants you, so it's a good feeling," Keppinger said. "We have some good hitters on this team and some good arms too. That's a good combination to have in this game." Baker said during pregame warmups that the Reds could get 25-year-old shortstop Drew Sutton from the Astros in the deal. Sutton hit .317 with 20 homers and 69 RBIs in 133 games for Double-A Corpus Christi last season. "We get a player to be named later and I assume it's going to be him," Baker said. "The Astros told me he has good skills, good talent and good speed. They told me he's a ballplayer." Notes: Astros 1B Lance Berkman, who has been battling biceps tendinitis, was not in the lineup but was available to pinch-hit. Berkman has missed five consecutive games, but is expected to serve as the designated hitter Thursday in Houston's game against its Double-A affiliate. ... Houston 3B Chris Johnson was reassigned to Triple-A Round Rock. Johnson went 2-for-4 against the Reds, with a double and a triple. He batted .245 with a home run and seven RBIs this spring. "He held his own here and I was very impressed," Cooper said. "I can't wait to see him when he gets back here."