Astros-Pirates Preview

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t expecting much

from Jeff Karstens when he moved from the bullpen to the starting

rotation in April.

Karstens has exceeded his skipper’s expectations.

The right-hander looks to help the Pirates move four games over

.500 – a place they haven’t been in July in nearly two decades –

against the slumping Houston Astros on Tuesday night at PNC


After losing in each of its previous eight attempts to climb

three games above the break-even mark, Pittsburgh (44-41) defeated

Houston 5-3 on Monday. Rookie Alex Presley had three of the team’s

14 hits and is batting .364 with six RBIs in eight games for the

Pirates, who didn’t earn their 44th victory of 2010 until Aug.


This is the first time Pittsburgh, winner of nine of 13, is

three games better than .500 in July since it was 40-37 on July 1,

1999. It hasn’t been four games over the break-even mark this deep

into a season since going 96-66 in 1992, its last season with a

winning record.

“We feel like we’re going to win every time out,” Presley


That has certainly been the case when Karstens (6-4, 2.65 ERA)

takes the mound.

He went 3-0 with a 1.52 ERA in six starts during June and has

yielded two earned runs or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts.

“It’s been kind of surreal,” Karstens said after giving up two

runs and five hits in seven innings in Thursday’s 6-2 win over

Toronto. “I’ve just been going out there and having fun.”

Karstens, who started the year in the bullpen before replacing

the injured Ross Ohlendorf, walked one Thursday. He’s issued seven

in 52 1-3 innings over his last eight starts.

“We thought he could come in and get us innings and win a game

but the volume and depth of games he’s pitching and the efficiency,

walks to strikeouts, hits, his WHIP, all of it, the ERA, he’s

knocked the bottom out of some things,” Hurdle said.

Karstens’ impressive run includes a solid outing in Houston on

June 14, when he allowed three hits and walked none in 6 2-3

innings of a 1-0 win. All-Star Hunter Pence was hitless in three

at-bats after previously being 5 for 10 with a homer and a double

against Karstens.

Like Karstens, counterpart Wandy Rodriguez (6-4, 2.97) has been

tough on opponents lately.

Rodriguez permitted four hits and walked three in seven innings

in Thursday’s 7-0 win over Texas, the third time in four starts he

didn’t allow a run following a stint on the disabled list with a

left elbow injury.

“When Wandy’s got his breaking ball working, he’s hard to beat,”

first baseman Carlos Lee told the Astros’ official website. “Right

now, it’s working for him, and it seems like the guys have no


The Pirates typically have that feeling against Rodriguez, as

the Astros (29-57) have won seven of the left-hander’s last eight

starts in the series.

Rodriguez has a 1.19 ERA in winning his last four starts against

Pittsburgh, including seven strong innings in a 3-2 win at PNC Park

on May 6.

Although Houston has had little trouble beating the Pirates with

Rodriguez on the mound, it hasn’t had much luck lately.

The Astros are 6-23 since June 3, having lost four straight and

nine of 10.

Pence has been one of the few bright spots, batting .400 with

six RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak.