Astros' swoon costs Cooper job a bit early

The Houston Astros fired manager Cecil Cooper on Monday with 13 games left in another disappointing season.

Third-base coach Dave Clark was named interim manager. The Astros were 70-79 headed into Monday’s home game against St. Louis.

General manager Ed Wade said the change couldn’t wait until the end of the season. He added that more changes could be coming for a franchise just four years removed from its only World Series appearance.

“We’re tasked with evaluating all aspects of our situation,” Wade said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to try to address those off-field issues that exist. We’re not walking away from it. The issue we had to address here, in the short term, was the managerial issue and that’s why we moved forward today.”

The 59-year-old Cooper was hired on Aug. 27, 2007, to replace Phil Garner. Houston went 171-170 under Cooper, who was the bench coach under Garner between 2005-07.

Cooper became the fourth manager to get fired this season, all of them in the National League. Arizona dismissed Bob Melvin on May 7, Colorado replaced Clint Hurdle on May 29 and Washington fired Manny Acta on July 13.

Wade said Clark would be considered a candidate during the search for a new manager. Cooper did not answer calls to his cell phone and his voicemail was full.

Wade, owner Drayton McLane and president of baseball operations Tal Smith met with Cooper in his office on Monday afternoon to give him the news.

While Cooper took the blame, he could not be blamed for all the Astros’ shortcomings in 2009.

A number of offseason moves fizzled and All-Star first baseman Lance Berkman and pitching ace Roy Oswalt have had subpar seasons.

“It stinks when you know that your performance, that you’re responsible for somebody else’s job security,” Berkman said. “Say what you want, we didn’t get it done on the field. The players have to take the full responsibility. Coop never threw a pitch or batted with runners in scoring position.”

Cubs moving on after Bradley’s suspension

The Chicago Cubs are trying to move past the latest distraction in a disappointing season.

Volatile outfielder Milton Bradley was suspended for the rest of the year Sunday, a day after criticizing the team in a newspaper interview. Manager Lou Piniella said it will be general manager Jim Hendry’s decision whether the Cubs bring back Bradley next season.

“We’re moving on from yesterday. I fully support Jim’s actions and now it’s time to look to the present and look ahead, not behind,” Piniella said. “Our (goal is) to finish up as strong as we can for the next 14 games, play some kids and take a look at them, and win as many games as we can. That’s all that we can do.”

The 31-year-old Bradley has two years remaining on a $30 million, three-year contract he signed with Chicago as a free agent last offseason.

“When you manage a baseball team what you want is the least distractions that you can possibly have,” Piniella said. “You try to shy away from distractions. My job basically is to get guys to play and to play as well as possible and that’s what I try to do.”

The Cubs activated outfielder Reed Johnson from the 15-day disabled list and called up former first-round draft pick Tyler Colvin to replace Bradley.

Giants prospect charged with murder

A top prospect for the San Francisco Giants was charged with murder in the death of a 25-year-old man last weekend at a bar in the Dominican Republic.

Angel Villalona, who received a club-record $2.1 million bonus when he was signed by the Giants in 2006, wore a bulletproof vest to his hearing at a court in the city of La Romana. He pleaded innocent to the murder charge.

The 19-year-old Villalona could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty in the Saturday night shooting death of Mario Felix de Jesus Velete.

Short hops

Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who defected in July, has established provisional residency in Andorra. In a statement, Chapman’s agent said the pitcher “has been granted provisional passive residency” in the country pending completion of the process. He has sent his residency materials to Major League Baseball so he can be declared a free agent. ... The Boston Red Sox put right-handed pitcher Junichi Tazawa on the 60-day disabled list and selected infielder Chris Woodward to the active roster from Triple-A Pawtuckett. ... Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro will likely miss the rest of the season after an MRI revealed a tear in his right heel. ... Minnesota Twins center fielder Denard Span was hit in the helmet by a pitch from Chicago White Sox reliever Randy Williams in the sixth inning and had to leave the game.