By Evan Ren
Killeen Daily Herald
ROUND ROCK Of the 108 pitches thrown by Round Rock starting pitcher Ezequiel Astacio in Wednesday's 8-3 loss to San Antonio, there were several he would like to have back.
Then again, it didn't take many mistakes to cost the Express the game, not with flame-throwing phenom Felix Hernandez providing the opposition.
Hernandez, an 18-year-old Venezuelan with a 97-mph fastball, gave Astacio little margin for error, holding the Express to a run on four hits through six innings of work en route to the win.
While improving to 2-1 on the year, Hernandez, who tossed a scoreless inning in this year's All-Star Future's game, walked two and fanned five.
"What a difference a night makes," said Express manager Jackie Moore, whose club was coming off a 6-0 win over the Missions on Tuesday. "I think Ezequiel pitched better than the numbers would indicate, but (Hernandez) was throwing pretty doggone good and you have to give him credit."
For the Express (62-42, 17-17 second half), the loss was the third in its last four outings, dropping it two full games behind the first-place Missions in the Texas League West.
Hunter Brown did most of the damage for San Antonio (49-55, 19-15), going 3-for-4 with two home runs, a triple and three RBIs.
Blanked for four innings by Hernandez and trailing 2-0, Round Rock broke through with a run in the fifth when a two-out single by Hector Gimenez drove in Todd Self, who had walked.
But San Antonio, with four runs on four hits in the sixth, including a solo homer by Brown, extended its advantage to 6-1. Micheal Morse provided a pair of RBIs with a double during the eruption, later coming home on an error by Junior Zamora at third.
The inning marked the exodus of Astacio (8-9), who allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits through six full frames. He walked one and fanned 11.
"Ezequiel just didn't get his second wind tonight," Moore said. "Usually he does in the middle innnings, but tonight it was a struggle for him."
The Missions were equally rough on Express reliever Trey Poland, and when Brown greeted him with his second homer of the night, a two-run shot in the seventh, San Antonio had an 8-1 edge.
"I was seeing the ball really well," said Brown who now has nine homers on the season. "Before the game my batting coach told me that I was crouching too much and that I should stand a bit more upright. "I guess it paid off."
The Express cut the gap to 8-2 with a solo home run by Luke Scott off reliever Renee Cortez in the bottom of the seventh.
It scored again in the eighth when Ivanon Coffie singled, advanced on a throwing error by Cortez, and crossed the plate on a groundout by Brooks Conrad.
With Missions closer Rick Guttormson entering to toss a shutout inning in the ninth, however, Round Rock was finished offensively.
"There's not much you can say," Moore said. "When you're facing a kid like Hernandez who can bring it up there at 97 mph and then snap off a nasty breaking ball, it takes all of the fun out of hitting. "We'll just get after it again and tee it up tomorrow."
The two clubs will meet again in Game 3 of their four-game set tonight at 7:05 at Dell Diamond.
EXPRESS NOTES Infielder Kevin Orie, who played in parts of four seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins, has been signed by the Houston Astros and assigned to the Round Rock Express. Orie was previously playing with Double-A Akron. ... Astacio was acquired along with two other players by Houston as part of the Nov. 3, 2003 trade which sent Astro closer Billy Wagner to Philadelphia.
Contact Evan Ren at email@example.com