HOUSTON (AP) - This one hurt on several levels for the Houston Astros.
Hunter Pence extended his career-long hitting streak to 21 games before leaving with back problems, and Houston lost 11-4 to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
Michael Bourn tied a career high with four hits and scored twice but it wasn't enough for the Astros, who have been outscored 20-6 in back-to-back losses and have dropped six of seven overall.
Pence singled with two out in the third to keep alive the majors' longest current hitting streak. He departed after the inning with tightness in his lower back and was replaced by Jason Michaels.
Pence said he felt his back tighten during pregame sprints and again as he ran the bases in the inning.
``I was hoping it would loosen up,' said Pence, who is hitting .395 (34 for 86) with three homers and 14 RBIs during the streak. ``Nothing happened. It was precautionary.'
He said he expects to play Saturday.
Pence's hot bat was sorely missed by the Astros, who lost 9-2 to St. Louis on Thursday night and got more the same from their ailing pitching staff and struggling offense in the opener of a four-game series against Atlanta.
Starter Aneury Rodriguez was rocked for home runs on consecutive pitches and four runs total in the third inning, when the Braves grabbed control in their fourth consecutive victory.
Relievers Jeff Fulchino and Brandon Lyon, in his first outing since being activated Thursday, also gave up home runs.
The Astros' offense did little to help the cause through eight innings, with the exception of Bourn and Jeff Keppinger, who had two hits.
Matt Downs hit a two-run homer off Cristhian Martinez in the ninth, but it wasn't enough. Bourn had a triple and two doubles.
Rodriguez (0-4) lasted four-plus innings and remained winless through eight career starts. The right-hander gave up six runs and six hits.
``He was leaving some balls over the middle of the plate, and they were hitting them pretty hard,' Astros manager Brad Mills said. ``We'd like for him to be able to keep that focus and concentration over a period of time. We've seen that come and go.'
The Astros hurt themselves with poor defense in the third. First baseman Brett Wallace's error on Chipper Jones' two-out infield single allowed Dan Uggla to score.
Freddie Freeman's two-out, two-run shot landed several rows up in the second deck in right field and gave Atlanta a 4-0 lead. Alex Gonzalez sent the next pitch into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
``This is the second time this happens to me, that after an error they get me for three, four runs,' Rodriguez said. ``I don't know what's happening. I keep doing the same, throwing strikes.
``I don't think I'm losing focus, because I keep throwing strikes. But they are getting me with runs even as I throw strikes. Maybe I'm not making the right pitches given the circumstances.'
Braves starter Tim Hudson (5-5) pitched six effective innings, yielding two runs and seven hits.
``He had a good sinker working and he kept it down in the zone overall,' Bourn said. ``He was able to minimize us, and their offense got going early, and that's pretty much the end of the game.'
NOTES: Houston purchased the contract of C Carlos Corporan from Triple-A Oklahoma City and optioned C Robinson Cancel to its top farm club. Corporan, who is scheduled to start on Saturday, had a pinch-hit single in the ninth. ... The Astros signed second-round draft pick RHP Adrian Houser.
The Associated Press News Service
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