The Houston Astros had their longest winning streak of the season snapped in their last game. Bouncing back should be significantly easier with Mike Hampton(notes) taking the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Hampton looks to continue his dominance of the NL Central rival Pirates as the Astros try to rebound Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
However, the Astros have to be confident in their ability to bounce back based on the way Hampton (3-4, 5.07 ERA) has pitched against the Pirates (25-28). The left-hander is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts versus them this season, compared to 1-4 with a 6.43 ERA against other teams.
Hampton held Pittsburgh to one run and three hits in seven innings of a 2-1 road victory on Sunday, improving to 12-3 with a 2.51 ERA lifetime against the Pirates. He’s won 12 of 13 decisions against them since 1997, including eight straight starts.
“I don’t think there’s anything to it other than I was fortunate enough today to make quality pitches and the defense played great behind me,” he said Sunday.
Only one current Pittsburgh player has more than 10 career at-bats against Hampton, who’s been plagued by injuries over the last four seasons. Shortstop Jack Wilson(notes) is 1 for 11 (.091) against him.
After batting .233 against left-handers over the first seven weeks of the season, however, the Pirates are hitting .314 against them since May 24.
Pittsburgh lost some of its offensive firepower when it traded All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth(notes) to Atlanta on Wednesday for three minor leaguers. But the move made room for prized prospect Andrew McCutchen(notes), who was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis.
The speedy center fielder went 2 for 4 with three runs, a walk, an RBI and a stolen base in his major league debut Thursday, helping the Pirates finish a three-game sweep of the New York Mets with an 11-6 win.
“I don’t try to come up here to take (McLouth’s) place,” the 22-year-old McCutchen said. “I just came up here because I believe I earned it. They know what game I can play, so I basically just want to play my game and stay within myself. I know if I do that, I’ll have success.”
McCutchen, one of three players 25 or younger to start for Pittsburgh on Thursday, makes the already inexperienced Pirates even younger, but manager John Russell thinks his team is ready to compete now.
“Everybody’s talking about the future. We’re not looking to the future. This is the now,” Russell said. “We’re very excited about where we’re at, and we added a very talented player.”
The Pirates will hand the ball to 26-year-old Jeff Karstens(notes) (2-2, 4.83). The right-hander ended a six-start winless streak by beating the Astros on Saturday, holding them to two runs in seven innings of a 7-4 victory.
That was Karstens’ second career start against Houston. He gave up three runs in four innings of a 6-3 loss in his season debut April 16.
Shortstop Miguel Tejada(notes) is 3 for 9 with two doubles against Karstens and 12 for 24 with five doubles in six games against the Pirates this year. He had a 17-game hitting streak snapped with an 0-for-5 performance against the Rockies on Thursday.