CHICAGO -- The imperfect struggles of Philip Humber continued on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.
Humber (2-4) allowed six runs (five earned) over 5 1/3 innings during Houston's 11-9 victory over the American League Central-leading White Sox. The White Sox right-hander was out-pitched by Houston starter Lucas Harrell (6-4), who was part of the White Sox organization from 2004-11.
But of greater concern to the White Sox is finding some rotation stability behind All-Star-caliber hurlers Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. That starting reinforcement could mean Humber moves to the bullpen when a healthy John Danks joins the team this weekend in Los Angeles if all goes with his Minor League rehab start on Tuesday.
Manager Robin Ventura has Humber penciled in for Saturday's start, but he sounded non-committal concerning Humber's role if he has another below quality showing.
"It's hard to work your way out of it if you don't pitch," Ventura said. "Whether that's starting or the bullpen, I don't know. But it has to get better. He's still going to make that next start. It's there. You see flashes of it, but it needs to be more consistent."
Sunday's setback dropped Humber to 1-2 in his last four starts, during which he has given up seven homers. Humber slipped to 1-4 with a 7.50 ERA since hurling the 21st perfect game in Major League history on April 21 in Seattle, and has gone 14 straight starts without a victory at U.S. Cellular, posting a 0-7 record and 5.92 ERA since last winning at home on June 12, 2011.
Home runs did in Humber on Sunday, despite matching a career high with his nine strikeouts, as J.D. Martinez, Justin Maxwell and Brett Wallace all went deep off the right-hander. Maxwell's two-run blast in the fifth traveled 461 feet down the left-field line and landed in the 357 section of the ballpark. It was upheld after replay, and some of the White Sox players said they had never witnessed a ball landing in that particular area of the ballpark.
For a somewhat quiet Humber, the postgame story was quality pitches, but not enough of them.
"I felt like I made a lot of good pitches," said Humber, who recorded six straight outs via strikeout from the third to the fifth. "The ones that weren't good pitches left the ballpark. I just got a couple of pitches up."
Nate Jones and Zach Stewart weren't much better out of the bullpen. Jones had a rare off-day, giving up three runs on three hits in just two-thirds of an inning. Jones was on the mound with Brian Bixler on first and Jose Altuve on third in the sixth inning, when Bixler broke for second.
As catcher Tyler Flowers threw to Alexei Ramirez covering second, Altuve raced for home. Ramirez couldn't get the ball out of his glove and Altuve picked up Houston's first steal of home since Kazuo Matsui on May 19, 2009. Altuve added a two-run homer off of Stewart in the eighth.
Alejandro De Aza singled home one run and Adam Dunn launched an opposite-field home run, giving him his 10th season of going deep at least 20 times. Otherwise, Harrell kept the White Sox under relative control on six hits over 7 1/3 innings.
"I've played with half those guys for two, three-plus years," Harrell said. "Flowers, some of those guys I played with a whole lot. You know their tendencies, you know what they work on when they were in the cages. You try to go to those things, and hopefully they're not hitting it."
"He threw great," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko of his former teammate. "It had nothing to do with anything else other than he would have been good against anybody today. He was hitting his spots. That was the story, I think."
Konerko hit a two-run homer in the eighth off of reliever Wilton Lopez, marking his 12th of the season and moving Konerko into second place all-time with 56 Interleague homers, trailing only Jim Thome. Orlando Hudson hit a three-run shot with one out in the ninth off Fernando Rodriguez, after Rodriguez walked Dayan Viciedo and Ramirez, but Astros closer Brett Myers got fly balls from De Aza and Gordon Beckham to finish things off for his 15th save.
Both Toronto and Houston captured series wins during this 4-5 homestand for the White Sox, whose division lead slipped to a half-game over Cleveland. It marks the White Sox first consecutive series losses since the start of May against the Indians and Tigers.
"We just got to keep playing baseball," Hudson said. "You can't change [anything], and Ventura knows that best. He's one of the best players to play baseball, period. So he understands how this crazy game goes."
This game could be a bit less crazy with a better balanced rotation.
Jose Quintana starts on Tuesday for Danks. The rookie southpaw could slide into Humber's slot if Humber struggles again, with Humber moving to the bullpen and a corresponding move to be made out of the relief crew.
Of course, Humber isn't the only one struggling. Gavin Floyd, who took Friday's loss, has a 1-3 mark with a 10.52 ERA over his last five starts, and has yielded 10 long balls over 25 2/3 innings during that span. Humber's start almost was a carbon copy of Floyd's on Friday, and Ventura simply expects better.
"They have an inning that's good and then they have an inning when they leave it in the middle," said Ventura of Floyd and Humber. "You can't do it with these guys. They can swing the bat, especially in hitter's counts."