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HOU@MIN: Cosart works seven strong, strikes out four

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Astros faced their first test Friday night to try to nail down a win in the late innings since dealing closer Jose Veras to the Tigers earlier this week.

With four rookies taking up most of the room in a bullpen that includes a pair of veteran lefties and a converted starting pitcher who wasn't available, the Astros squandered leads in the eighth and again in the ninth and wound up losing, 4-3, in 13 innings to the Twins at Target Field.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who was scheduled to start Sunday and was the last Astros pitcher available Friday, was tagged with the loss when Brian Dozier stroked an RBI single with two outs to score Clete Thomas, who had walked and was moved to second on a sac bunt.

"We had opportunities to close it out and just did not get the job done," Astros manger Bo Porter said.

The Astros certainly let this one get away. They were leading, 2-1, in the eighth when rookie reliever Jose Cisnero allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach, with Dozier doubling and scoring on a game-tying single by Justin Morneau for Houston's first blown save of the night.

"It's definitely a concern," Porter said. "It's pretty obvious we've had problems in our bullpen and we had opportunities to close the game out tonight, and we just did not get it done."

Matt Dominguez put the Astros ahead, 3-2, in the ninth inning with a double high off the wall in left-center field to score L.J. Hoes from first base, giving the bullpen another shot. Rookie Josh Fields, who got a big out to end the eighth, allowed a leadoff walk in the ninth, and then pinch-runner Doug Bernier scored when rookie Chia-Jen Lo gave up an RBI single to Dozier.

"I had a couple good at-bats early, but that's part of it -- you live with that and move on," Dozier said of his early hard luck. "I think the biggest thing is I got some good pitches to hit, all in hitters' counts pretty much, and that's what you strive for as a hitter."

The Astros will likely make a roster move on Saturday to find another arm to replace Keuchel for Sunday's start. Lucas Harrell, who made a spot start for Bud Norris on Wednesday, was unavailable to pitch, though he could possibly start Sunday in Keuchel's place.

Houston used seven relief pitchers, who allowed three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's kind of like, do with what you've got," said lefty Travis Blackley, who threw a scoreless inning. "It's a learning experience for pretty much all of us. This is my first year doing this role, and I think Wes [Wright] is the only one who's really been a reliever for a long time. We're doing it, but tight games like this, someone's got to win, and unfortunately it wasn't us."

The shaky bullpen work overshadowed another dazzling performance by rookie Jarred Cosart, who held the Twins to one run and five hits in seven innings. Cosart has pitched at least six innings in all four of his starts and allowed one earned run or fewer each time. His ERA actually rose to 0.96.

"I try and learn from the past start and work on stuff in the bullpen with [pitching coach Doug Brocail] and the other coaches and take it into the next start," Cosart said. "We didn't want to walk anybody, and I walked one. Their starter, [Samuel Deduno], struggled and walked five ... and what's what I'm trying to build on going forward is limit the walks. I was able to make some big pitches tonight out of the stretch, and it got me through seven innings."

Cosart, who has walked more batters (12) and he's struck out (11) this year, is the second pitcher in the last 100 years to allow one earned run or fewer and pitch at least six innings in each of his first four career appearances, joining Cincinnati's Wayne Simpson in 1970.

"Lost in all of it was a great performance by Jarred Cosart," Porter said. "He went seven innings strong and is a power arm with a put-away breaking all and did a tremendous job."

Despite how well he's pitched this year, the Astros have lost the last two games in which Cosart has started.

"You can't worry about it," Cosart said. "You try to keep them in there, and Matty had a clutch hit in the ninth again. That's just baseball. We've played well, I think, since I've been here, and stuff hasn't gone our way. Going forward, as we play together more as a team, the more the bounces are going to go our way. We've played a lot of one-run games, some crazy stuff's happened and baseball's happened. We're going to continue to get better. That's all you can do."

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