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MIL@HOU: Braun makes a great sliding catch in left

HOUSTON -- Milwaukee's starting pitchers, who had put together an impressive string of seven quality starts, didn't find the same success in Houston. After combining for a 1.37 ERA over 46 innings while holding the opposition to a .160 batting average, neither starter made it past the fifth inning in two games against the Astros, both losses.

Houston completed the sweep of the two-game series with a 4-0 win Thursday in front of 15,173 at Minute Maid Park. It was the fourth time this season that Milwaukee has been shut out -- all on the road.

The Brewers dropped three of four games on the road trip and are now 7-13 away from Miller Park this season. Milwaukee (16-22) slips one game behind the Astros (17-21) in the Central Division standings.

Randy Wolf was knocked out in the fourth inning in Wednesday's 8-3 loss and Thursday's starter Shaun Marcum (2-2) pitched five innings, allowing nine hits and four runs, although only three were earned. Marcum struck out five and walked one.

The two combined, in their previous starts, for 13 innings with just one run allowed.

"Frustrating, terrible, it wasn't any good," Marcum said of the road trip. "We've got to find a way to play better baseball and be consistent. It seems like we'll have one game out of every five that we play really good baseball.

"It's just a matter of being consistent and doing it on an everyday basis, all the things you're taught as a little kid -- play the game fundamentally sound -- and hopefully if we do that, things will take care of itself."

The Astros got all the run support they needed in the fourth inning to make J.A. Happ (3-3) a winner. Happ combined with four Houston pitchers on the shutout.

Houston shortstop Jed Lowrie belted a two-run homer to highlight the four-run outburst.

"The pitch on Lowrie, 3-2 fastball, he tried come in on him," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's either a great pitch or it's going to get hit hard. It came back over the plate a little bit too much and he got it."

Lowrie wasn't shortening up his swing or looking to go the other way with two strikes.

"I try to keep the same approach no matter what the count is," Lowrie said. "With a guy like that, you have to trust what you're seeing because you have so many different pitches and he really works all of them into the game at some point.

"He's not a guy that's going to rear back and try to throw it by you. You have to see the ball with him. You can't really guess with him because that's when he gets you out."

Marcum said he threw a fastball that got too much of the plate.

"It was a fastball that was supposed to be in and came back over the middle third [of the plate]," said Marcum, who felt what he described as a cramp in his right side during pregame workouts. "When he hit it, I didn't think it was going to be a home run. But unfortunately it went out and that was all they needed."

"I don't know what it was," he said of the twinge in his side. "It felt like a cramp there in the oblique area. I just kind of pitched through it. I did OK for a few innings and then just had that one rough inning there where they scored four. But other than that it for the most part it felt all right."

He would have felt a lot better had the Brewers not squandered their opportunities.

"A lot of opportunities," Roenicke said. "We're not coming through. Nothing is working."

Milwaukee left the bases loaded in the third inning, stranded runners at second and third in the fourth, and left two more on in the sixth. In all, the Brewers left 11 runners on base and had nothing to show for eight hits.

Leadoff batter Norichika Aoki collected three of those hits -- a double and two singles. It was his first three-hit game in the Major Leagues. He was also hit by a pitch to reach base four times in five trips to the plate.

He has multi-hit games in each of his past three starts, hitting .538 (7-for-13) in that span.

"He swung the bat great," Roenicke said. "I like him against left-handers. He gives you a great at-bat.

"Besides that, [Jonathan Lucroy] continues to look good. Aramis [Ramirez] hits a bullet out there that's caught with [Ryan Braun] on second. Nothing is going right."

Happ, who turned in his best start of the season for Houston, went six innings by keeping it simple.

"I felt like we did enough to keep them off balance," Happ said. "I tried to keep it simple as far as getting strike one and that was a big key."

Roenicke said he hopes that a little home cooking will help turn things around.

"I think it's always good when we go home," he said. "We need to get it going, and going home is certainly better than staying on the road. But we've got a lot of things that we need to start doing better offensively.

"Regardless of what happened with Marcum in the fourth inning, we don't score. And we need to start scoring."

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