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HOU@WSH: Schafer knocks in Castro to reclaim the lead

WASHINGTON -- There were any number of moments the Astros could have singled out from Wednesday's game that proved to be their downfall, whether it was Lucas Harrell giving up a two-out hit in the seventh, Rhiner Cruz's bases-loaded walk in the eighth, or not stringing any hits together.

Unfortunately for the Astros, their inability to do the little things -- make the extra play, get the extra hit -- has become a nuisance, if not a recurring theme early in the season.

The Nationals made the key plays when the Astros couldn't, pushing across a pair of runs in the eighth inning to send Houston to yet another one-run loss, 3-2, at Nationals Park. The Astros have lost a season-high four games in a row.

"I keep saying it: we're putting ourselves in a position to win these games," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "These one-run games are showing these guys how close they are."

Still, the Astros have lost seven of eight games following a 3-1 start that had them full of optimism. Houston has lost four games by one run, all of which have come on a seven-game road trip which comes to an end Thursday in Washington.

"It's tough," Astros catcher Jason Castro said. "Those are the ones we want to win, we need to win those. The ball isn't falling our way. We've had a couple of bad breaks, and we just need to keep playing. We're giving a great effort all the way around. You can't really ask anything more of these guys, and we're happy with that."

The Astros were leading, 2-1, heading to the bottom of the eighth Wednesday when reliever Fernando Rodriguez got himself in trouble by allowing the first two batters to reach with a walk and a single. Left-hander Wesley Wright walked the bases loaded with no outs, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position.

Mills summoned hard-throwing rookie Cruz from the bullpen, saying it was the team's best chance to get a strikeout. Instead, Cruz's first walk of the season -- to Jayson Werth -- forced home the tying run, and Wilson Ramos hit a sacrifice fly to score Adam LaRoche with the go-ahead run one out later.

"The pitch was a lot closer than I thought," Werth said about the walk. "He kind of pulled the pitch. It was a ball. That guy was pretty nasty. I'll tell you what, the Astros are a lot better team than people know. They have some good pitching. They have some guys in their bullpen that throw pretty hard."

Jordan Schafer, still not recovered from a cold he's dealt with for the last few days, went 2-for-4 with a run, an RBI and a stolen base. He also made a nice running catch at the wall in the fifth to rob Ian Desmond of a hit and help preserve the Astros' 1-0 lead.

"It's tough no matter how many you lose in a row," Schafer said. "A loss is a loss. We're in every game. It's not like we're getting blown out. We're in every game, and we just have to do the little things right throughout the game to get wins. Little things are costing us games, and we have to tighten up on that."

Astros starter Lucas Harrell was terrific in holding the Nationals to four hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings while throwing 97 pitches. The Nationals entered the game with a Major League-best 1.91 team ERA, and watched starter Jordan Zimmermann hold the Astros to four hits and one earned run in seven innings.

"I definitely got back to using my sinker and getting guys out with that," Harrell said. "The first couple of innings, I started out and didn't have a lot of command and was a little bit sporadic, but I felt like as the game went on, I got stronger."

Harrell, who has a 2.25 ERA through three starts, praised his teammates.

"I couldn't be more proud of this team and the way we played," he said. "This was a tough loss today. We really battled hard, we stayed in the game the whole game, and they made some great plays behind me defensively. Jordan Schafer made a great play, and he came up with a big hit and knocked Castro in. It was just a tough loss."

The Astros, who were in a 2-for-29 funk with runners in scoring position entering play Wednesday, failed to get a hit in their first five at-bats with runners on second or third before Schafer's two-out single in the eighth scored Castro to put the Astros ahead, 2-1.

"I'm trying to be aggressive," Schafer said. "I'm looking for something, a good pitch to hit, and luckily he got a ball in there, and I put a good swing on it." Comments