HOUSTON (AP) - It took him longer than he would have liked, but Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez ultimately found his rhythm.
The same could not be said of the Astros' offense, whose inability to hit in the clutch proved most detrimental in a 2-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.
Rodriguez recovered from a shaky start to post a quality outing, but it didn't help the Astros that Royals starter Luke Hochevar pitched even better.
Hochevar pitched 7 2-3 innings and combined with relievers Aaron Crow and Jonathan Broxton for the Royals' seventh shutout win of the season and first since June 5 against Minnesota.
Hochevar (4-7) gave up five hits and four walks, and struck out six to snap a winless streak at six starts.
``(Hochevar) had some good stuff,' said Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, who was 2-for-4. ``But we have to come up with big hits and we didn't do that.'
Rodriguez (6-5) went seven innings, allowing the Royals' two runs on six hits. He struck out three and walked two.
``When I started the game, I was a little bit in trouble with my location, but later in the game I got it (back),' Rodriguez said. ``I was missing my spot (early on).'
The Astros fell behind early after Billy Butler took Rodriguez deep to left for a two-out solo home run in the first inning.
Alcides Escobar doubled the Royals' lead with two outs in the third, with a high-bouncing grounder that skipped over Rodriguez and squeezed in between Jed Lowrie, the shortstop, and second baseman Jose Altuve to drive in Yuniesky Betancourt.
Rodriguez allowed just one other hit the rest of the way.
``We need (Rodriguez) to find that rhythm right away,' Houston manager Brad Mills said. ``He couldn't get in that rhythm (early on). When he got it, you saw how good he was.'
The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the left-hander that spanned over his previous five starts.
The Astros had their share of chances, but they left nine runners on base. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position en route to their fifth shutout loss of the season and first since being on the wrong end of Matt Cain's perfect game last week at San Francisco.
``Getting hits with runners in scoring position - that was the big thing,' Mills said.
It was Johnson who ended Hochevar's no-hit bid with a line drive to center in the fifth inning, but the Astros couldn't get beyond third base despite coming close a couple of times later in the game.
In the sixth, they had the tying run at second base after Hochevar walked Lowrie and Carlos Lee doubled to right.
Hochevar never wavered, coolly striking out Justin Maxwell and Brian Bogusevic - the latter on three curveballs - to shut the door on the Astros' hopes.
Mills said Hochevar's breaking ball proved troublesome, especially in the earlier innings.
``We had trouble making adjustments, as you obviously saw,' Mills said.
Lee chased Hochevar in the eighth, connecting for a clutch two-out single to the left-field wall to advance Lowrie to third and again put the tying run at second base after the throwing error by Alex Gordon.
Crow, Hochevar's replacement, fell behind the count against Maxwell but managed to strike him out swinging to end the threat.
``He was pitching pretty good early on,' Lee said of Hochevar. ``We put some hits together (later on) but couldn't get the big hit.'
NOTES: Houston starter Bud Norris, on the DL with a sprained knee, will throw a light side session on Wednesday. If that goes well he will start for Triple-A Oklahoma on Saturday. ... Royals starter Felipe Paulino, on the DL with a right groin strain, will start a rehabilitation assignment with Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Wednesday. ... Kansas City left-hander Bruce Chen, who turned 35 on Tuesday, will start Wednesday's finale against Jordan Lyles.
The Associated Press News Service
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