DENVER -- After watching the three starting pitchers who took turns before him struggle to have their best stuff in the high altitude of the Mile High City, Astros right-hander Bud Norris went to the mound Thursday with something else to try to overcome.
Norris was dealing with a sore hip flexor that he aggravated on a pitch in the first inning, an inning that quickly spun out of control when the Rockies' first five hitters reached and eventually scored. Things didn't get much better for Norris or the Astros.
The Rockies jumped on Norris for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings, including a three-run home run in the first inning by red-hot Carlos Gonzalez, and drubbed the Astros, 11-5, to sweep the four-game series at Coors Field and send Houston to its season-high sixth consecutive loss.
"It was a tough trip for us," Norris said. "I really wanted to go out there and have a good one. My hip flexor was a little sore, and unfortunately I tweaked it pretty bad. That doesn't help, but I still needed to bulldog through it and try to get it done. I made a couple of mistakes and those guys have been swinging the bats extremely well."
Making their final appearance at Coors Field as a member of the National League, the Astros were outscored in the series, 40-23, and gave up 10 home runs, while hitting only five. Houston has lost seven games in a row at Coors Field, falling to 26-41 all-time at the ballpark and 27-50 all-time in Denver against the Rockies.
The Astros' pitching staff posted a 9.18 ERA in the four games against the Rockies, including 14.04 by the starters. Norris was the second consecutive Astros starter to allow nine earned runs (Lucas Harrell).
"It's harder to pitch here, in my opinion," Norris said. "The elevation plays a factor. It's a tough ballpark, but you have to go out there and try to get comfortable and get in your groove and they were attacking from the get-go. Tough place to pitch, tough place to play."
The Astros banged out 55 hits in the series, including 14 on Thursday, with Jose Altuve (3-for-5) and Jed Lowrie (3-for-5) leading the way in the finale. But Houston was outscored, 15-2, in the first inning in the series.
"And that's putting you behind the eight-ball pretty early," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "That was troublesome."
Astros catcher Jason Castro could tell Norris didn't have his best stuff from the get-go. Norris (5-2) came into the game bucking for NL Pitcher of the Month honors after going 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his first five May starts.
"I think he was trying to be a little cautious, maybe," Castro said. "I think it was bothering him from the start. I really think that's pretty much what was affecting him. I could definitely tell something was wrong, something was painful, and that's obviously tough to try to pitch on. You're going to feel it every time right as you're about to release the ball. It's unfortunate and you try to battle through it."
Gonzalez's homer in the first inning gave him four homers in consecutive at-bats after he hit three off three Astros pitchers on Wednesday. He became the first player to hit homers in four consecutive plate appearances since Albert Pujols did it, April 16-17, 2006.
"I'm seeing the ball really well," Gonzalez said. "I [feel like] I'm hitting better than I ever have."
Norris couldn't survive the second inning as Colorado pushed four more runs across, including a two-run double by Michael Cuddyer, to stretch the lead to 9-1. J.D. Martinez hit a home run in the second inning for the Astros.
Mills said he pulled the cord on Norris early to protect him from getting injured swinging the bat.
"We're going to kind of monitor him to see how he is for the next couple of days," he said.
With his young team in a six-game free fall, Mills said it will be vital to stress the importance of playing strong fundamentals. The Astros had a runner picked off second base in the first inning Thursday, but Altuve didn't get the tag on the runner. Castro committed a throwing error in the same inning when his foot slipped.
"You look at those things and a situation when a team is swinging the bat like that, you want to be able to make all those plays," Mills said. "The situation is to stress we need to keep playing good, solid baseball, and let those other things take care of themselves."
Of course, the Astros figure to get better pitching when they return home to Minute Maid Park, where they are 16-10 this year. At least they won't have to come back to Coors Field any time soon.
"Unfortunately we made some mistakes and left some balls in some spots guys could put good swings on, and the ball is going to go here," Castro said.