HOUSTON (AP) — Houston's Lucas Harrell fell behind hitters again and again on Tuesday night and it cost him just as it had in his other two starts this season.
Harrell gave up five hits and four runs in five innings and the Kansas City Royals got a 4-2 win over the Astros.
His third start of the season was strikingly similar to his first two. He allowed a run in the first inning and couldn't find a way get out of the early hole.
Harrell (0-3) allowed a solo shot to Omar Infante on his seventh pitch of the game. After Infante's line-drive homer to the Crawford Boxes in left field, Harrell began what he said has become a habitual tendency to fall behind in counts.
"No matter what happens, you've still got to make pitches," Harrell said. "Sometimes bad luck is not really bad luck — it's just making bad pitches."
Including Infante, Harrell threw the first pitch for a ball to 11 of the first 12 batters he faced. On the second pitch against those 12 batters, Harrell fell to a 2-0 count twice and allowed hits twice, including a double to Eric Hosmer in the third inning. Infante scored on the play, putting the Royals up 3-1.
"I've got to get strike one," Harrell said. "I need to throw strikes in 1-1 counts, too, because that really killed me tonight."
Harrell has allowed 14 runs in three starts combined this season. He dropped his eighth straight decision dating back to last season and has not won a start since June 15. He led the American League last season with 17 losses.
Astros manager Bo Porter said Harrell's inability to get ahead in counts and throw strikes is hurting him most.
"For a starting pitcher, it's about going deep into the game," Porter said. "You want your starting pitchers to give you a chance to win the game and don't tax your bullpen. The biggest concern is the high pitch counts and the low number of innings."
Perhaps more concerning to Porter than Harrell's struggles is Houston's consistent inability to score runs. The Astros have scored two runs or fewer in three of their past four games.
Rookie Yordano Ventura threw seven solid innings for first major league win, allowing four hits and one earned run with seven strikeouts in seven innings — both career highs — in his fifth major league start.
The Astros had just four hits, including a homer by Carlos Corporan in the fifth into the first row of the seats in right field to cut the lead to 4-2.
"It was just his mistake," Corporan said. "He threw it 95, and it looked like a changeup because he usually throws 98. I put a good swing on it, but the guy had good stuff."
Ventura got back on track after that and didn't allow another hit until Matt Dominguez singled to start the seventh inning. He walked Jonathan Villar with two outs, but ended the threat and his night when he retired Dexter Fowler after a short coaching visit to the mound. Wade Davis pitched a perfect eighth before Greg Holland struck out the side in the ninth for his fourth save.
Fowler hit a leadoff double and reached third on a one-out single by Jason Castro. Fowler scored on an error by Ventura with two outs on a pickoff attempt to first base to tie it at 1-1.
Infante grounded into a forceout that scored Cain, who had led off the inning with a single, to make it 2-1 in the third inning. Hosmer followed with an RBI double to push the lead to 3-1.
A single by Nori Aoki followed by a pair of walks loaded the bases for Kansas City with one out in the fifth, and Butler's sacrifice fly pushed the lead to 4-1.
NOTES: The series continues Wednesday when Kansas City's Jeremy Guthrie opposes left-hander Dallas Keuchel. ... Houston manager Bo Porter wasn't feeling well Tuesday, but said he was much better than he was a day before when he spent the day in bed fighting off what he called "a bug." ... The Astros celebrated Jackie Robinson Day on Tuesday with a pregame reception where children from the Astros Urban Youth Academy had a chance to meet Houston players including Fowler, L.J. Hoes, Jerome Williams and Chris Carter.