Wednesday July 17, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 156


Astros fail to reach .500

Aditya Godse
Astros Report

Primed for a return to the .500 mark Sunday afternoon, the Astros could not overcome the law of averages. Tough Cincinnati Reds
knuckleballer Jared Fernandez and another erratic starting performance from Tim Redding condemned the Astros effort.

Redding's struggles were just too damning, especially considering how dominant Fernandez was while denying the Astros the
four-game sweep at Minute Maid Park.

Fernandez, whose slowest knuckleball was clocked at 65 miles per hour and fastest at 76 mph, had little trouble beating the Astros
8-3 to collect his first major-league victory.

"We've been playing so well, but it just seemed like (the Astros' effort) matched the weather outside," Lance Berkman said after the
Reds snapped the Astros' five-game winning streak during continuous rain flurries. "I felt draggy the whole day. The legs felt heavy."

Making only his second Major League start of the year, Jared Fernandez proved to be the exact remedy the reeling Cincinnati Reds
were looking for.

The 30-year-old knuckleballer lived up to expectations.

A win on Sunday at Minute Maid Park would have accomplished a few things. The Astros would have extended their winning streak to
six games.

They would have reached the .500 mark for the first time since May 18.

Redding would have recorded his first win in a starter's role in two months.

But with the loss, none of the above happened in favor of the Astros Sunday.

Ten starts and two relief appearances later, Redding is stuck on three wins on the year.

In four of his last seven starts, he has exited the game before the end of the fifth inning. Obviously frustrated with the winless streak
after going 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA over five May starts, Redding recognizes his faults. Now it's just a matter of finding a remedy.

"I'm running into a bad inning or two right now every outing," Redding said. "If I can go out there and give up two, three runs instead of
five, six, seven, put up some zeroes and eat up some innings and go six, seven innings at a time, I can help this team a lot. I keep
telling myself I'm working."

Injured left-hander Carlos Hernandez will not be rushed back to action.

Although the MRI tests came back negative and showed that Hernandez has not suffered any structural damage, the Astros are
taking a very cautious approach with their prized 22-year-old southpaw.

"We're going to take it slow and be protective to a degree," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "Especially at this point in the year
when you can't afford any setbacks. I would guess we're looking at at least a couple of weeks from today before I can see him

Hunsicker said that while the cause of the inflammation in Hernandez's shoulder is unclear, a certain degree of discomfort is not
uncommon for even the healthiest of pitchers.

Hunsicker also announced that Brian L. Hunter has been placed on the 15-day disabled list after the 31-year-old outfielder underwent
an appendectomy Sunday evening.

In corresponding moves, the Astros purchased the contract of outfielder Barry Wesson from Triple A New Orleans.

With his 16th save Friday night against Cincinnati, Billy Wagner took over sole possession of the club record for appearances by a
lefty pitcher.

The outing was the 354th of Wagner's career, passing Joe Sambito, who made 353 trips to the mound during his Astros tenure from
1976-'82 and '84.

Wagner is also alone in fourth place on the club's all-time appearance list. Only Dave Smith (563), Ken Forsch (421) and Joe Niekro
(397) had more outings during their Astros careers.

Wagner, who became a full-time Major Leaguer in '96, hopes to finish his career in Houston.

In this modern age of trades and free agency, especially regarding relief pitchers that rarely spend their entire careers with one team,
Wagner's tenure with the team that "raised" him is more an exception than the norm.

The Astros have won five series in a row for the first time since they won six consecutive series from Aug. 16 to Sept. 5, '01.

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