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Chris Volstad’s skid reaches 23 as Cubs lose 10-1

Houstcatcher Chris Snyder heads for mound after Cubs batter Brett Jackswas called out strikes end game with HoustAstros defeating Chicago

Houston catcher Chris Snyder heads for the mound after Cubs batter Brett Jackson was called out on strikes to end the game with the Houston Astros defeating the Chicago Cubs 10-1 on August 14, 2012 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 16, 2012 6:23AM

Breaking into the majors is a tough assignment for Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson.

Breaking out of a major-league skid has been a heavy burden for veteran right-hander Chris Volstad.

Winless in the majors since July 17, 2011, Volstad’s improbable streak reached 23 starts Tuesday night against the Houston Astros.

Volstad was behind from the first inning, but a three-run homer in the third by Brett Wallace was the big blow in a 10-1 loss.

‘‘I pretty much hung a curveball to Wallace,’’ said Volstad, who fell to 0-9 with a 6.96 ERA. ‘‘Take away one pitch, and it’s 1-0 instead of 4-0, and the team is still in it. I executed pitches after that, and I feel that’s one of the big strides I made.

‘‘I just have to keep going. That’s all you can do.’’

Volstad is 0-14 with a 5.51 ERA during his 23 fruitless starts.

Manager Dale Sveum was hoping that Volstad’s last two starts — he went seven innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing two runs, and six innings against the Cincinnati Reds, allowing three runs — would bolster his confidence.

‘‘There was nothing real sharp,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘His off-speed stuff was getting hit pretty hard.’’

Volstad gave up eight hits in five innings, and it got no better for the Cubs when he left.

The Astros hit reliever Lendy Castillo with a five-run sixth. Michael Bowden then gave up a homer in the seventh to Scott Moore to cap the Astros’ scoring.

Pitching will be an obvious concern for the Cubs in the closing weeks of the season after losing starters Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm in trades and Matt Garza to an elbow injury.

The offense continues to be a work in progress, as well.

After a good Monday in a 7-1 victory, Sveum kept the same lineup, but the results weren’t the same against Astros starter Lucas Harrell (10-8).

‘‘He came after us with fastballs, and we didn’t capitalize on his aggressiveness at all,’’ Sveum said.

The lineup had only six hits against Harrell, one of those coming from Volstad.

Progress for the Cubs’ offense will be measured in increments, such as Jackson’s single in the fifth after he struck out in his first at-bat.

‘‘There’s a long line of great players, including Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, who were 1-for-55 their first years in the big leagues,’’ team president Theo Epstein said. ‘‘We almost expect young guys to come up and struggle. It’s part of the growth process. It doesn’t make it any easier for them to go through, but it’s a natural step in a player’s development.

‘‘They come up and get humbled a little bit and make their adjustments, and maybe you have a chance to humble someone else down the line.’’

Vitters was hitless, but Sveum saw an adjustment he made Monday in his last at-bat — a sacrifice fly to the opposite field — as a positive.

‘‘It looked like he was just trying to drive the run in and not do too much,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘I think he was probably a little frustrated after his first four at-bats — two of them when the third baseman made great plays — so he probably made a conscious effort to make sure he went the other way and at least get a run.

‘‘Sometimes, to survive, you have to hit rock bottom and get back up. This game is full of adversity. The guys who usually make it are able to handle the adversity and make adjustments. That’s part of what we’re doing this for in the evaluation process.’’

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