HOUSTON -- Brandon Backe thinks he's figured out why he's pitched so badly at times this month.
Backe was sharp into the seventh, Ty Wigginton homered twice off Aaron Harang and the Houston Astros beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-2 on Thursday.Humberto Quintero added a solo shot to help the Astros beat the Reds for the 10th time in 12 meetings this season.Backe (9-12) had one of his best outings of an inconsistent August, allowing six hits and striking out six in 6 2/3 innings. He was 2-2 in his previous four decisions, allowing 11 runs in each of the losses and a total of four runs in the two wins.Backe said he felt as good on Thursday as he did in his last start, when he gave up three runs on five hits in an 8-3 win over the New York Mets."Things are falling in line, I guess," Backe said. "Obviously, the last two games I've thrown the ball pretty good. I've changed the pace of the ball, thrown it over the plate, kept them off-balance."Houston manager Cecil Cooper said he and pitching coach Dewey Robinson have told Backe repeatedly to trust his fastball and throw more strikes. Cooper hopes Backe is finally executing the plan."I'm hoping that's the real Brandon Backe," Cooper said. "Today, he did the same thing he did the last time out, he attacked the strike zone with his fastball, he went to his off-speed stuff when he needed to. He was really good and that's the kind of guy I like to see out there."Backe didn't allow a run until Jay Bruce hit an RBI triple with two outs in the seventh. Corey Patterson added an RBI single before Backe was relieved by Doug Brocail, who got the final out of the inning.Backe threw only 89 pitches and was disappointed that he couldn't keep the bullpen rested."As efficient as I was today, I'm looking at eight innings or possibly a complete game," Backe said. "I'm obviously frustrated that I didn't last longer."LaTroy Hawkins pitched a scoreless eighth and Jose Valverde struck out the side in the ninth for his 35th save.Harang (4-14) matched a season high with nine strikeouts, but lost for the fifth time in six decisions. His 29 homers allowed are the most by a Reds' pitcher this season."The two to Wigginton I thought were my only mistakes," Harang said. "I pretty much put the ball right where I wanted to."Backe is 4-0 in his last six starts against the Reds. He's struggled in the first inning all season, but breezed through this one in seven pitches.In the bottom half, Wigginton lined Harang's fifth pitch into the left-field seats, his second homer in two at-bats. Wigginton hit a two-run shot in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 4-1 win.Quintero, Houston's catcher, hit a solo homer off the left-field foul pole in the Astros' fifth. It was only Quintero's second homer since he was called up from the minors on June 6.Backe struck out the first two batters he faced in the sixth. Chris Dickerson singled up the middle, but Quintero picked off Dickerson with a quick throw to Lance Berkman.Wigginton led off the Astros sixth with another solo homer, this time off the facade in left center. Wigginton has 19 homers this season and leads the NL with 10 homers this month. He recorded his first multihomer game since last Sept. 15.Wigginton says he hasn't changed anything about his hitting since the start of the season. He missed the first month with a broken thumb and said he's finally regained his timing at the plate."I'm pretty confident in my swing," he said. "I've always felt like, given at-bats, my numbers will always be there."Brandon Phillips beat out an infield grounder with two outs in the seventh and Bruce snapped out of a 1-for-15 slump with a triple to left. Backe then walked Rosales, prompting a mound visit from Robinson.Patterson blooped a single to left and Cooper brought in Brocail. Ryan Hanigan grounded into a fielder's choice on Brocail's first pitch.
Harang has lost his last two decisions against Houston after winning the previous six. ... Wigginton has seven multihomer games in his career. ... The Reds sent RHP Jared Burton to Triple-A Louisville on Thursday to begin a rehab assignment. Burton has been on the disabled list since July 11 with a strained right latissimus muscle.