In the midst of a major rebuilding project, the Houston Astros are now looking for a new manager.
Houston (39-82) has by far the worst record in the majors and is on pace to surpass last season's team-record 106 losses after dropping 39 of its last 46.
Following Saturday night's 12-4 defeat to Arizona, the Astros fired Mills, hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham . The players weren't told about the moves before leaving the ballpark.
It wasn't until Sunday morning that Tony DeFrancesco was named Mills' replacement on an interim basis. DeFrancesco had been manager of Houston's Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City. Dan Radison will take over in the interim as first base coach and Ty Van Burkleo will be the hitting coach.
The Astros' struggles are hardly surprising given their young roster, which has a payroll of just $21.3 million following several midseason trades.
"It definitely puts things in a situation where wins are tougher because you're dealing with a lot of inexperienced individuals," Mills said recently.
The Diamondbacks (61-59) have taken full advantage, outscoring Houston 48-18 while taking the first five meetings of the season after winning their final three against the Astros last year.
They used a nine-run fifth inning to win Saturday's game, remaining within five games of the NL West lead and moving within five games of the league's second wild-card spot.
Houston native Chris Young led the way as Arizona won its third straight overall, going 4 for 5 with a homer and three RBIs. His average has hovered in the low .200s most of the summer, but he's 6 for 13 with two homers, two doubles and five RBIs in his last three games.
Young is batting .419 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 15 career games in his hometown.
"For some reason when I get here and have my all family here, I am able to make every situation a big-game situation, and it's been good so far," Young said. "It could be coincidence, but for the last five or six years I have come here, I have been able to get comfortable. I have been able to get my footing in the box pretty well."
Ian Kennedy (10-10, 4.35 ERA) hopes facing Houston will help him avoid losing a third straight start. After winning four straight outings behind a 2.54 ERA, the right-hander has been roughed up in his last two, giving up 11 runs - eight earned - and four homers over 10 innings.
He has had an up-and-down season after going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA last year.
"Well, he's not throwing the ball exactly like he was last year, and he's having a little different luck," manager Kirk Gibson said after Tuesday's 8-2 loss at St. Louis.
Kennedy has made only one previous start against the Astros, pitching 6 2-3 innings in a 1-0 victory in Houston in 2010.
Armando Galarraga (0-3, 5.75) is scheduled to pitch for the Astros. He was 3-4 with a 5.91 ERA in eight starts for the Diamondbacks in 2011 before being designated for assignment.
The right-hander joined the Astros after being released earlier this year by Baltimore, and he has allowed 15 runs and 16 walks over 20 1-3 innings since being called up from the minors July 28.
|August 17, 2012||Jason Kubel||Day-to-Day||Neck stiffness|
|August 14, 2012||Takashi Saito||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
|August 09, 2012||Willie Bloomquist||15-Day DL||Lower back stiffness|
|August 09, 2012||Josh Collmenter||15-Day DL||Ulcers|
|August 06, 2012||Henry Blanco||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|July 09, 2012||Wil Nieves||15-Day DL||Turf toe, right foot|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|July 31, 2012||Wilton Lopez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow tightness|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 14, 2012||Jed Lowrie||Day-to-Day||Right ankle|
|July 08, 2012||Jason Castro||15-Day DL||Fluid in right knee|
HOUSTON (AP) -- First-year owner Jim Crane believes firing manager Brad Mills and replacing him with interim manager Tony DeFrancesco will help the hapless Houston Astros win more games.
That plan got off to a slow start Sunday.
Houston dropped its first game under DeFrancesco when Aaron Hill homered twice to lead the Arizona Diamondbacks to an 8-1 win and a series sweep.
DeFrancesco was the manager at Triple-A Oklahoma City before being promoted. The major league-worst Astros (39-83) fired Mills late Saturday night.
"We need fans in the building and we want to win more ballgames," Crane said following Houston's fourth consecutive loss. "We think this is a process that will help us win more ballgames. The team was really struggling and the demeanor in the clubhouse wasn't what you want it to be. If there's a message to the fans, it's that we're going to make good decisions and we want to win."
Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said he made the move to "bring in a new environment" to the National League's youngest team. But it was more of the same Sunday as the Astros fell to 7-33 in their last 40 games.
DeFrancesco, who has managed in the minors for 17 seasons, said he "almost fell to the floor" when Luhnow offered him the position and that it's something he's been waiting for his entire career.
"My first major league managing game didn't work out the way I wanted it," he said. "But it was an honor to put the Astros uniform on and be part of the organization. I'm excited to get it going."
Arizona won its ninth in a row against the Astros.
The Diamondbacks hope this sweep will give them momentum as they look to make a late-season surge. Arizona is currently third in the NL West, trailing the Dodgers and Giants.
"We'd like to be closer, we're not right now, but we're going to push it right until the end," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "I think we've got a good feel for ourselves."
Hill, who hit a three-run shot in Saturday's 12-4 victory, hurt the Astros again. He led off the five-run fourth with a drive against Armando Galarraga (0-4) and added another solo homer in the eighth. He also doubled.
Chris Young hit an RBI single, Ryan Wheeler drew a bases-loaded walk, pitcher Ian Kennedy hit a sacrifice fly and Gerardo Parra doubled home a run in the fourth to chase Galarraga.
"Once you're down early, you feel the vibes from the players," DeFrancesco said. "It's an uphill battle that they've been doing all season. I'm trying to keep these guys motivated for nine innings, every single out."
Galarraga remains winless in five starts for the Astros after being tagged for six hits and five runs in 3 2-3 innings.
He said Sunday was a bit of a whirlwind for the team.
"There's a lot of changes that happened in a couple hours," Galarraga said. "(DeFrancesco) was a winning manager in Oklahoma City and he brings a lot of energy here."
Kennedy (11-10) yielded one run and five hits in six innings for his first win since Aug. 3.
Crane said he hopes to name a regular manager by Nov. 1, but it could be much sooner and DeFrancesco would be considered for the full-time job.
"We'd like to whittle our list of candidates down to three or four pretty quickly," Crane said. "If there's a guy that comes in and knocks our socks off, it might be in two weeks."
NOTES: Jason Kubel returned to the Arizona lineup after missing the previous two games with a sore neck. He went 1 for 5. ... Houston opens a series at St. Louis on Monday and the Diamondbacks host Miami. ... Houston hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham were let go along with Mills on Saturday night. Dan Radison took over in the interim as first base coach and Ty Van Burkleo is the hitting coach.