MILWAUKEE (AP) - The Houston Astros recognize that rebuilding may take some time with the departure of Hunter Pence. Manager Brad Mills wants his staff to focus on daily improvement for now.
Pinch-hitter J.D. Martinez doubled in a run in his first major league at-bat in the eighth and J.A. Happ pitched better than he had in the last two months in the Astros' 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday.
``I was shaking in the box, I was shaking on the on-deck circle,' said Martinez, who arrived in the middle of Astros batting practice to take the roster spot of Pence. ``It just worked out.'
Houston fell to 35-72, well on its way to one of the worst seasons in franchise history, but has plenty of promise moving forward with players such as Martinez. Mills held a coaches' meeting on Saturday before the game to let his staff know to relish their time with the young prospects that Houston is stockpiling.
``I know so far our season's been really rough, there's no doubt about it. But putting that aside, that shouldn't hinder how we go about our daily work of working with these guys and trying to get them better,' Mills said. ``I think we're looking at that as kind of an exciting time to being able to do that, being able to formulate this ballclub into what's going to happen, hopefully, in the very near future.'
Houston traded Pence to the Phillies for three minor leaguers and a player to be named during Friday night's game and has been in discussions about other moves in the hours before Sunday's non-waiver trading deadline.
Happ (4-13), who was acquired last year from Philadelphia in the Roy Oswalt deadline deal, gave up five runs - two earned - and 10 hits in five innings. The left-hander went 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA in five starts in July.
His defense failed him in a three-run fifth inning and the offense never gave him a chance.
``It's always hard, but it just seems a little harder now with the way things have been going,' Happ said. "That's where I've got to pick us up and find a way. Another one of those times that I felt good and felt like I was going to be there into the game farther, but that fifth inning was kind of the undoing of it.'
Happ allowed a leadoff home run to Corey Hart and an RBI single to Nyjer Morgan in the third, before the fifth inning started unraveling on Angel Sanchez's error at short on Ryan Braun's grounder.
``(Happ) deserved a lot better,' Mills said. ``He's making progress. It was nice to see. He's throwing some balls with conviction and with confidence tonight.'
Prince Fielder added a 475-foot homer off Aneury Rodriguez in the seventh.
Yovani Gallardo (12-7) allowed an unearned run and four hits, retiring 15 of 16 at one point. He also struck out seven and walked none while improving to 6-0 with a 3.50 ERA in his last six starts against Houston dating to 2009.
The Astros scraped together four singles off Gallardo, including one by Michael Bourn, who also is the subject of recent trade rumors.
Trailing 5-0, the Astros scored their unearned run off Gallardo on Sanchez's RBI single in the sixth, setting up Martinez's run-scoring hit off Marco Estrada.
``It was definitely exciting to go up there to the plate. My mind was like, `Just hit something hard, hey man, don't embarrass yourself, just hit something hard,'' Martinez said. ``I got lucky with the fastball middle away and I was able to put a good swing on it.'
NOTES: The Astros assigned 1B-OF Jonathan Singleton to Class-A Lancaster and RHPs Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid to Double-A Corpus Christi. The three were part of the Phillies' package for Pence. ... Houston had gone 17 innings without a run until Sanchez's single. ... Jason Castro was the last Astro to get a hit in his first major-league plate appearance on June 22, 2010. ... Marc Saccomanno was the last Astro to collect an RBI in his first plate appearance on Aug. 8, 2008.
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