Preview: Kendrick Tries to Prevent the Sweep

(Sports Network) – Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park has been a house of horrors for visiting clubs in recent weeks, but the Houston Astros certainly haven’t seemed to be intimidated.

The Astros will attempt to produce their first four-game road sweep of the Phillies in nearly 11 years when they take the field against the two-time reigning National League champions this afternoon.

Houston has been out of the playoff race for quite some time, but the team is doing its best to spoil the Phillies’ postseason hopes by coming through with narrow victories in each of the first three tests of this set. After outlasting Philadelphia in a 16-inning thriller on Tuesday, the Astros prevailed by a 3-2 count last night behind the contributions of a former Phillie.

J.A. Happ, traded by Philadelphia to Houston as part of the July 27 deal that sent standout pitcher Roy Oswalt to the Phils, burned his ex-team and outdueled All-Star Roy Halladay by delivering 6 1/3 strong innings. The left- hander yielded two runs and five hits to improve to 3-2 since coming over to the Astros.

“I’m a little relieved it’s over,” Happ told the Astros’ official site of his start. “There were definitely some nerves going out there and I didn’t know how I was going to feel. Once you get out there and get going, it’s just another game … kind of.”

Houston had gone in front with a run off Halladay in the top of the seventh, when Chris Johnson doubled with one out and later scored on a Humberto Quintero single to snap a 2-2 tie.

The Astros bullpen combined for 2 2/3 scoreless innings to make the one-run lead stand, with Brandon Lyon working the final two frames to register his ninth save of the year.

Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn — another one-time Phillie — each had solo homers earlier in the night off Halladay (16-9), who was reached for three runs in seven innings and had a six-start winning streak snapped.

Prior to this set, Philadelphia had won 19 of its last 23 games at Citizens Bank Park and hadn’t dropped a series at home since losing two of three tilts to NL East-leading Atlanta from July 5-7. The Phillies were last swept in their own building from August 7-9, 2009, when the club suffered three straight defeats to Florida.

Houston’s last four-game sweep in Philadelphia took place at Veterans Stadium from September 6-9, 1999.

Philadelphia was able to remain 2 1/2 games behind the Braves in the East standings after Atlanta lost to Colorado yesterday afternoon, and is currently tied with San Francisco for the top spot in the NL Wild Card race.

The Phillies will pin their hopes this afternoon on Kyle Kendrick, a pitcher who’s struggled mightily in each of his last two trips to the Citizens Bank Park mound. The inconsistent righty was tagged for five runs in 5 1/3 innings of a home loss to Washington last Saturday, two starts after surrendering six runs (five earned) and eight hits in a forgettable 3 1/3-inning stint against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 10.

In 12 home assignments thus far in 2010, Kendrick is just 3-4 with a 5.46 earned run average and has served up 11 homers in 64 1/3 innings.

The Houston-born hurler, who celebrates his 26th birthday today, did toss three scoreless innings to beat the Astros in Philadelphia last September and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA over three games (two starts) against this afternoon’s foe.

Wandy Rodriguez takes the ball for Houston today seeking to end a four-start winless stretch, although the left-hander has pitched rather well over the course of his drought.

After allowing just five runs — three earned — over a span of 20 1/3 innings in three straight no-decisions to begin the month of August, Rodriguez struck out 10 Florida hitters in six frames this past Saturday in Miami. He still wound up with a tough loss after being touched for three runs, one of which was unearned.

The 31-year-old had gone 6-1 over a seven-start sequence from June 24-July 31 prior to his winless run, but owns only a 9-12 record in 25 appearances this season. On the road, he’s just 3-7 with a 5.30 ERA in 12 starts.

Rodriguez has faced the Phillies four times previously, twice as a starter, and is 1-1 with a 3.95 ERA lifetime against Philadelphia.

Houston was swept by the Phillies in a three-game set at Minute Maid Park back in April, but has won 11 of the past 18 meetings between these teams.

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