Pittsburgh looks to continue its early-season dominance over the Astros when they continue their three-game series on Wednesday night.
Half of Pittsburgh’s wins this season have come against its NL Central rival. The Pirates (8-10) opened the season with a three-game sweep in Houston, and won the opener of this series 3-0 on Tuesday. The Pirates haven’t won five straight against the Astros since 1991.
On Tuesday, Paul Maholm pitched a three-hitter—the first shutout by a Pirates starter in almost a year. The win also was Pittsburgh’s first in five home games as it avoided the longest home losing streak at the start a season in 109 years.
“We want to realize the fact that this is our home ballpark and people that come in here to play us, it’s going to be very difficult in here for you to beat us,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy told the team’s official Web site. “That’s the mentality we want to create.”
Ronny Paulino went 2-for-3 and hit his first home run of 2007 in the second inning. A .310 hitter as a rookie last year, Paulino raised his batting average 25 points to .207.
“You have to start some place,” Tracy said. “His swings were better tonight and you need a starting point.”
Zach Duke, who threw Pittsburgh’s last complete-game shutout before Maholm, gets the start for the Pirates. Duke (1-2, 9.00 ERA) started the season strong, going 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in his first two starts but is 0-2 with a 21.00 ERA since, giving up seven runs in each of those outings.
Duke yielded two runs in seven innings, but did not factor in the Pirates’ season-opening 4-2 win in 10 innings on April 2. He is 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA in five career starts against Houston.
After winning eight of nine, the Astros (9-10) have dropped back under .500 with four straight losses. They’re batting just .190 (24-for-126) during their current losing streak - the team’s second four-game skid of the season - and just .208 (27-for-130) against Pittsburgh.
“It was a very bad game, we looked like we had no clue what we were doing,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “We hit one ball good. We didn’t square the ball up and swung at a lot of bad pitches and, unfortunately, we put them in play.”
Houston will send rookie right-hander Matt Albers (0-0, 3.00) to the mound. Albers will make his second start of the season, and his first career appearance against Pittsburgh. He allowed two runs in six innings in a 6-5 win over Milwaukee on Friday.