Houston (2-6) at Pittsburgh (4-4)

Fair Currently: Pittsburgh, PA
Temp: 72° F
  • Game info: 12:35 pm EDT Thu Apr 16, 2009
  • TV: FSSW
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Houston Astros finally figured out how to score some runs after consecutive shutouts, and the result was just their second victory of the season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, are discovering their up-and-down offense has its own issues.

Two teams struggling to push across runs will square off Thursday afternoon as the Astros and Pirates play the decisive third game of their series at PNC Park.

The Astros (2-6) came into the middle game of their series in Pittsburgh on the heels of back-to-back shutouts, the first a 3-0 loss to close a three-game sweep in St. Louis and the other a 7-0 drubbing on Monday in the Pirates’ home opener, their fifth consecutive loss.

Houston, though, didn’t waste any time finding offense Wednesday night. It scored twice in the first inning and two more times in the third, leading the way to a 4-1 victory behind three hits from Miguel Tejada and three RBIs from Carlos Lee.

“The at-bats were much better tonight,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “We need to string hits together, and we did a good job, particularly early.”

The Pirates (4-4) haven’t had nearly as many problems with their offense overall, but they’ve been consistently inconsistent. Pittsburgh has alternated wins and losses in its first eight games, averaging 7.5 runs and hitting .353 in their wins, and putting up 1.3 runs per game while hitting .146 in their losses.

While the Pirates’ current pattern indicates they’re due for a big offensive output Thursday, their history against Astros starter Russ Ortiz (0-0, 6.75 ERA) suggests otherwise. Ortiz is 8-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 15 games - 13 starts - in his career against Pittsburgh.

Ortiz - who pitched an inning in relief in Houston’s loss to Pittsburgh on Monday - will be making his first start since Aug. 20, 2007, with San Francisco. Since 2005, Ortiz’s track record as a starter has been woeful - he’s 7-22 with a 7.39 ERA in 41 outings.

He did, however, have a 2.97 ERA in eight appearances in spring training after missing last season following Tommy John surgery.

“It’s not as big a thing since I was able to get in a couple of games,” Ortiz told the Astros’ official Web site. “I think I’d be a little more anxious if I hadn’t pitched yet. It worked out nice, because they made sure to try and get me in. I feel like I haven’t missed a step since spring training.”

Shortstop Jack Wilson is the lone current Pirate to have had a fair amount of success against Ortiz, going 7-for-17 (.412) with four walks.

Pittsburgh will also be handing the ball to a pitcher making his first start, but Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.03) hasn’t seen any game action in 2009. The Pirates’ fifth starter was due to start last Friday at Cincinnati, but after the game was rained out his turn in the rotation was skipped.

Karstens got off to a fast start with Pittsburgh after coming over from the New York Yankees in July, winning his first two starts without allowing a run, but he went 0-6 with a 5.70 ERA after that.

“It’s not going to be easy for him,” manager John Russell told the Pirates’ official Web site. “But he has done it before. He knows how to prepare. We’ll monitor him a little closer than we would if he was on his every fifth day.”

Karstens has never faced the Astros.

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Starting Pitchers

R. Ortiz LAD vs. J. Karstens Pit
3-6 Record 4-6
5.57 ERA 5.42
65 K 52
48 BB 45
1.67 WHIP 1.48

Scoreboard

Thursday, Apr 16