Astros-Pirates Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t given James McDonald much help

this season.

He may not need a whole lot as the Pirates open this three-game

series with the slumping Houston Astros at PNC Park on Friday

night.

McDonald (2-1, 2.70 ERA) has been backed by two or fewer runs in

five of his six starts, and he’s yet to allow more than three runs

in any of his outings.

The right-hander appears to be finally getting enough support to

collect some victories. He received just two runs, but yielded one

while striking out seven in 6 1-3 innings of Saturday’s 3-2 win

over Cincinnati. That came five days after he was backed with a

season-high nine runs as he allowed three and fanned a career-high

10 to lead Pittsburgh (14-17) to a 9-3 win at Atlanta.

McDonald wasn’t this effective last season when he went 9-9 with

a 4.21 ERA.

“I really look forward to seeing the continuing evolution of

this young man,” manager Clint Hurdle told the team’s official

website. “The growth he has exhibited in a year’s time is

significant enough for you to be excited about it when he takes the

mound.”

Hurdle may be excited to see McDonald take the mound against the

Astros (14-17), who are hitting .195 with seven runs in losing

three of four after compiling a .287 average with 14 homers over

the previous 12 games – winning eight.

McDonald is 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA in five career starts versus the

NL Central rival.

He may need to be prepared for another rough performance from

his lineup, which has a .185 average with 15 runs while splitting

the first six of this nine-game homestand.

The bats struggled again Thursday, mustering five hits in a 4-2

loss to Washington.

Andrew McCutchen has been one of the few bright spots with six

hits in three games since returning from a bout with the flu. The

center fielder leads the Pirates with a .330 average and 17 runs,

and he’s batting .327 with 12 RBIs in 15 home meetings with the

Astros.

The Astros are trying to regroup after falling 5-3 to Miami on

Wednesday.

Jose Altuve, 0 for 5 against the Marlins, has cooled

significantly at the plate. The second baseman is 4 for 20 with one

run in five games after hitting .409 with six extra-base hits –

including two homers – seven RBIs and 11 runs in the previous

10.

Bud Norris (2-1, 4.58) is expected to get the ball as he tries

to win back-to-back starts for the first time since June 2-8.

The right-hander turned in one of his best performances of the

season Saturday, allowing an unearned run and three hits with four

walks in six innings of an 8-2 win over St. Louis. He’s completed

at least six innings in five of his six outings on the season.

“I’ve been pitching deep into ballgames,” Norris told the team’s

official website. “I made a bigger stride last start getting

through the sixth, and I know I really need to move that step and

keep going forward.”

Norris is 3-4 with a 4.04 ERA in eight starts against the

Pirates, going 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in four at PNC Park.