The Astros keep pushing back Moises Alou's hoped-for return date, increasing speculation the all-star left fielder will not play this year for the two-time defending NL Central champions. Sidelined since wrecking his knee in a treadmill accident before spring training, Alou has been working on the road with the team this month. The Astros could use him, since several other players are injured. All-star 2B Craig Biggio played left field Wednesday, his first outfield start since 1990.

HIGHER AND HIGHER: Called up Tuesday by the Padres from Class AAA Las Vegas, Matt Whiteside was tagged for nine runs and 10 hits in 1 2/3 innings of an 18-2 loss at Philadelphia. The next night, he relieved with his 48.60 earned run average -- and saw it increase. He gave up four runs while retiring only one batter in a 15-2 romp by the Phillies, leaving him with a 58.50 ERA.

STREAK STUFF: Expos OF Vladimir Guerrero has been slumping at the plate since his 31-game hitting streak ended on Friday. Guerrero went hitless in four at-bats yesterday against Cincinnati. He is 1 for 10 in his last three games, though the one hit was a game-winning, two-run homer -- his 12th in August -- Saturday night against the Reds. . . . Giants 1B J.T. Snow has hit safely in his last eight games and is 14 for 31 over that stretch. . . . Brewers 3B Jeff Cirillo had a stretch of seven consecutive hits over Friday and Saturday's games against the Padres. He was 10 for 16 and reached base 12 out of 18 plate appearances in the four-game series with the Padres, which ended yesterday.