CINCINNATI – It's happening to the Astros again.
Houston buried itself in the NL Central last season by losing its first eight games and going 17-34 in April and May. A strong finish brought a little optimism and a determination not to fall apart at the outset again.
So much for that.
Chris Heisey drove in three runs, and the Cincinnati Reds used a patient approach at the plate to beat the winless Astros 8-2 on Tuesday night for their best start in 21 years.
The defending Central champs are the league's only unbeaten team left, 4-0 for the first time since 1990. That year they won their first eight and wound up sweeping Oakland for the World Series title.
The Astros? The only winless team in the league at 0-4.
Against the Reds, they fell behind 7-0 after four innings, managed only five hits and wound up trying to overcome another subpar start. J.A. Happ (0-1) lasted only four innings, giving up seven hits, seven runs and five walks, one shy of his career high.
"We've got three starters go four innings in a row," manager Brad Mills said. "That definitely puts a little more stress on the hitting. The pitchers who are throwing against them can take a little more liberties."
The Reds sent eight batters to the plate in each of the first two innings to take control.
Happ walked Heisey with the bases loaded in the first, setting the tone. In the second, he walked Jonny Gomes to force in a run — the outfielder hesitated and waited for umpire Andy Fletcher's call on a 3-1 pitch close by the outside corner — and Heisey was hit on the left hand with the bases loaded for a 5-0 lead.
"I don't know if it was just a lack of aggressiveness at the outset," Happ said. "I felt I was around the (strike) zone. They definitely took some quality pitches."
The Reds sensed that Happ was frustrated with some of the ball-and-strike calls.
"He felt like he was getting squeezed," said Heisey, who also singled home a run in the fourth. "I'm sure some of them were really close. I'm sure that was frustrating, but we got the call and we got a couple of runs right out of the gate."
Happ strained a muscle in his right side during his last spring training appearance, prompting Mills to push his start back two days. Mills thought that was a factor in Happ's showing — only 52 strikes out of 91 pitches.
"He was mixing his pitches well, but he just didn't have any command of them," Mills said. "There's no doubt he had a couple more days of rest because of the side. When you get that rest, yes, sometimes that will lead to it."
Happ sat in front of his locker in a folding chair with his arms crossed after the game, staring straight ahead.
"There's no excuse," he said. "Spring training is over. I feel fine physically. I'm going to be better than that, I promise you."
Mike Leake (1-0) allowed three hits and a pair of runs in six innings.
NOTES: Astros reliever Alberto Arias threw approximately 60 pitches in the bullpen. Arias missed all last season recovering from shoulder surgery. He had mild tendinitis in the shoulder during spring training, prompting the Astros to put him on the DL. "He'll get (back) real quick if he progresses like he is," Mills said. ... Heisey started in RF in place of Jay Bruce, in part because the Astros started a left-hander. ... Former Reds 1B Sean Casey threw a ceremonial pitch. Casey was part of the television broadcast crew. ... Attendance was 11,821 on a 52-degree night. ... 2B Brandon Phillips knocked the wind out of himself on a hard slide into home in the fourth inning and left an inning later because he had trouble breathing. He expects to start on Wednesday.