Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Astros Lose Top Gun from Bullpen

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Astros Lose Top Gun from Bullpen

Article excerpt

The Houston Astros' secret weapon for their vital series with the Cardinals will remain secret.

Hard-throwing lefthander Billy Wagner, who recently struck out both Barry Bonds and Matt Williams with the bases loaded and who had emerged as the Astros' closer, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a pulled groin muscle.

Wagner, 25, thus will miss both sets with the Cardinals because he can't be activated until Sept. 7, three days after the Astros are through with a series in St. Louis. Houston brought up former closer John Hudek, who is reported to have lost considerable velocity after having a rib removed last season and then having more physical problems this season.

Houston manager Terry Collins said the loss of Wagner "is a real blow to us. He was pitching great, just great. This hurts us a lot."

Wagner has nine saves and a 2.27 earned-run average and has struck out 52 while walking 17.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, of course, saw the loss of Wagner as less significant.

"What do you think (the Astros) are saying now? Everybody's got to pick it up," La Russa said. "But it is a tough break for them."

Collins said he would be apt to let his starting pitchers work longer because of the weakened bullpen. Todd Jones, who started the season as the closer and has 17 saves, is also on the disabled list.

Above and beyond the bullpen, Collins said his team had to play fundamentally better than it had been. "We really haven't executed very well," he said.

"The fundamental play - you've got to make it. If you don't, you're going to get beat."

This is a four-game series and Collins said, "We come into this saying we have to win two games. We have to make sure we stay where we are because (in September), we'll call up two or three pitchers who might wind up helping us."

Before Friday night's game, the Cardinals and Astros had been separated by one game or less in the standings in the previous 29 games. …

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