Houston (41-48) at Pittsburgh (40-47)

Fair Currently: Pittsburgh, PA
Temp: 16° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Mon Jul 7, 2008
  • TV: FSSW, FSPI
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Houston Astros enter Monday knowing their best pitcher is not all right. They just hope their top hitter is.

While Roy Oswalt is unlikely to start in this series, the Astros hope Lance Berkman will as they meet the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game set matching the NL Central’s worst teams.

Berkman has been one of the few bright spots for the Astros (41-48), but was held out of the starting lineup Sunday due to an irritated left eye after feeling discomfort in Saturday’s game at Atlanta.

“I felt like I wasn’t picking the ball up very well,” Berkman told the team’s official Web site. “It was bothering me a little bit.”

Berkman, though, flied out with the bases loaded as a pinch hitter in the 15th inning Sunday, and the Astros eventually lost 7-6 in 17 innings. He’s 2-for-19 with one RBI in his last six games, but remains among the major league leaders in homers (22), RBIs (69) and batting average (.350).

Berkman was voted the NL’s starting first baseman for the All-Star game, and the only other Houston player to make the team Sunday was shortstop Miguel Tejada, though left fielder Carlos Lee is among the NL players who could still be voted in. While Tejada is in a 3-for-18 slump and homerless in 16 consecutive games, Lee is 17-for-40 (.425) with two homers and eight RBIs over his last nine games.

Oswalt was an All-Star the last three years but has had a disappointing season, going 7-8 with a 4.60 ERA. However, it was recently revealed he’s been bothered by a strained hip.

The right-hander has yet to pitch this month, and after he underwent tests on the hip over the weekend, manager Cecil Cooper said he still doesn’t know when Oswalt could start again.

The Astros have lost five of six and are just percentage points ahead of the last-place Pirates (40-47), who have lost three straight.

Pittsburgh welcomes two starters back from the disabled list in the first two games of this series, with Phil Dumatrait pitching Monday and Ian Snell to go Tuesday.

Dumatrait (3-4, 4.66) had gone four straight starts without allowing more than two runs before getting ripped in his last two—giving up 14 runs and 16 hits in 10 innings—as bursitis developed in his left shoulder. He has not started since June 19.

The rookie left-hander is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in four home starts this season. The lone loss came to Houston even though he pitched well, going six innings in a 2-0 defeat on June 3.

Runelvys Hernandez (0-2, 5.40) makes his third start for Houston since being called up from the minors to take the spot in the rotation vacated by Shawn Chacon, who was released following his altercation with general manager Ed Wade. Hernandez has gone five innings and given up three earned runs in each outing, also allowing two homers and five walks.

Hernandez ended last season with the Pirates organization but never made it to the majors, going 1-3 with an 8.47 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Indianapolis. He has never faced Pittsburgh.

The only Pirates player to make the All-Star team was Nate McLouth, who drove in three runs in Sunday’s 11-6 loss to Milwaukee.

“Any time your peers feel that way about you and vote you into an All-Star game it’s extremely special and it makes you feel good,” said McLouth, who already has set career highs with 15 homers and 53 RBIs.

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Starting Pitchers

R. Hernandez HOU vs. P. Dumatrait MIN
0-3 Record 3-4
8.38 ERA 5.26
15 K 52
11 BB 42
2.22 WHIP 1.58

Scoreboard

Monday, Jul 7