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Astros knuckle under to Fernandez, Reds

HOUSTON

-- The ball felt a little odd in his hand, but that's OK -- knuckleballer Jared Fernandez won for the first time in the big leagues.

Fernandez pitched seven strong innings Sunday, helping the Cincinnati Reds end a four-game losing streak with an 8-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

Aaron Boone was 3-for-5 with two doubles to help stop the Astros' five-game winning streak.

''The Triple-A balls seem bigger and the leather is rougher,'' Fernandez said. ''Some of the balls were slipping out when I first came up, but today my stuff was as good as I've had.''

Fernandez (1-0) struck out eight -- tops for a Reds pitcher this season -- in just his fourth major league start. He limited the Astros to three runs and seven hits in only his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Louisville on July 4.

Cincinnati catcher Corky Miller caught Fernandez at Louisville and had never seen him better than he was Sunday.

''This was right up there with his best. Today he was unbelievable,'' Miller said. ''He had all kinds of knuckleballs -- the tumbler, the one he calls the dirty, dirty dishrag, and a bunch more.''

Cincinnati manager Bob Boone was pleased with Fernandez's reliability.

''The key for him, like all knuckleballers, is consistency. When he throws a good one, you're not going to hit it,'' Boone said.

The Astros gave Fernandez mixed reviews.

Julio Lugo, like Daryle Ward, was impressed.

''He was throwing pretty good,'' Lugo said. ''He was more effective at the beginning of the game than he was at the end. It's rough because you don't see those guys everyday.''

Greg Zaun wasn't so impressed.

''I didn't think it was that big of a deal. I didn't think his knuckleball was one of those nasty dancers like Niekro brothers used to throw, but it just knuckled enough and was just slow enough that we didn't get too many good hacks at it.''

Tim Redding (3-5) allowed five runs and seven hits in 3 1-3 innings. His right knee was spiked on a play at home plate in the fourth inning, and he was lifted two batters later. He's listed as day to day.

Redding is 0-3 with five no-decisions in his last eight starts and hasn't won since a two-inning relief stint May 29. He hasn't won as a starter since beating Philadelphia 17-3 on May 13.

Sean Casey started the Reds' scoring in the first inning with an RBI single. It became 2-0 in the fourth when Adam Dunn broke out of an 0-for-14 stretch with a double, and went to third on Casey's single. Dunn scored on a wild pitch by Redding.

Raul Gonzalez's RBI single drove Redding out of the game. Corky Miller followed with a two-run double to the left corner off reliever Brandon Puffer for 5-0.

In the sixth, Fernandez hit reliever Scott Linebrink in the leg and the ball careened into right field for an RBI single to make it 6-0.

Craig Biggio doubled in a run in the sixth for Houston's first run.

Lugo's two-run homer in the seventh closed the margin to 6-3. It was his sixth homer of the year.

Pinch-hitter Austin Kearns hit a two-run double in the ninth to round out Cincinnati's scoring. The Associated Press