Nelson Figueroa knows he can pitch better than he has in his first two outings, and so does Astros manager Brad Mills.
Figueroa (0-2) allowed eight hits and five runs in four innings and the Chicago Cubs beat Houston 5-4 on Monday night. It was his second tough start this season after he gave up 10 runs, six earned, in just 5 1-3 innings in his first start.
"We know he is much better than that," Mills said. "He was just having problems today getting the ball over the plate and getting behind guys. But we've seen him and we know that that's not him and we know that he's going to be just fine."
Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Marlon Byrd combined for seven hits, five runs and three RBIs to lead the Cubs. Castro had three hits and scored three runs, Byrd drove in a pair of runs and Barney hit an RBI triple as the Cubs jumped on the Astros early, building a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning. Alfonso Soriano drove in two runs with a double in the first.
The 36-year-old Figueroa said he shouldn't be thinking about slow progress.
"It seems to be baby steps, and I'm frustrated with that in itself," he said. "I'm not someone who should be a work in progress or looking at this as a positive. I'm frustrated. I hate losing first of all. I hate putting our team behind in a situation like this."
He ran into problems in the first, second and fourth innings, with a 1-2-3 third sandwiched in the middle.
"There's frustration all the way around," Figueroa said. "I can't continue to put us in a hole. I can't continue to work behind and give these guys a hole to climb out of."
What frustrated him most was that all the Cubs' runs came with two outs.
"It's two games, but that's a pattern I don't want to fall into," Figueroa said. "Most people would say it's a lack of focus, but I don't believe that. If balls were being hit off the wall or into the gaps, but I feel that I am making good pitches."
Even with the hole Figueroa put them in, the Astros were able to battle back, and Joe Inglett, who was getting a spot start at second, came up multiple times with a chance to get runs on the board, including in the ninth when he struck out for the final out.
"I blame the loss on me," he said. "I had the opportunity and didn't come through. Can't dwell on it. There was more opportunity for me to do something, to drive runs in, but it didn't happen."
Closer Carlos Marmol got the last four outs for Cubs, giving him four saves. Ryan Dempster (1-2) got his first win of the season, allowing four runs in 6 1-3 innings.
Houston's offense didn't get going until late. The Astros got a run in the fifth inning before a solo homer by Bill Hall and a two-run shot by Angel Sanchez pulled them to 5-4 in the seventh.
Hall hit the sixth pinch-hit homer of his career with a solo shot to right field that made it 5-2 in the seventh inning.
Bourn followed with a double that bounced off the low wall in right field and back onto the field. Officials reviewed the play to see if it was a home run, but stayed with the original call.
The Cubs got to Figueroa early when Soriano's two-out, two-run double gave them a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Figueroa gave up a single to Castro and walked two of the first five batters he faced to set up the scores.
Castro got his second hit of the game on a single with two outs in the second inning. He scored on a triple by Barney that made it 3-0. Byrd's RBI single pushed the lead to 4-0.
Castro scored again on a single by Byrd later in the inning to stretch the lead to 5-0.
Houston's Matt Downs drove Johnson in with a single that made it 5-1.
An error by Ramirez and two walks by Dempster loaded the bases for the Astros in the sixth inning. Dempster got out of the jam when Inglett grounded out to end the inning.
NOTES: Houston RHP Alberto Arias, who missed last season after shoulder surgery and had tendinitis during spring training, threw to hitters on Sunday and is scheduled to do it again on Tuesday. ... Astros' reliever Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless eighth inning and hasn't allowed a run in six appearances this season.