The Houston Astros insist that Carlos Lee(notes) shake off some rust before returning to the lineup. Against Ross Ohlendorf(notes) and the Pittsburgh Pirates, he may not need much time to get back on track.
With Lee likely to be back, the Astros look to remain unbeaten against Ohlendorf and win their eighth straight against the Pirates on Saturday night.
Houston (37-53) held Lee out of the lineup as it opened this three-game set with a 5-2 win Friday night. Lee missed the team workout the previous day, and manager Brad Mills(notes) feels it is necessary for the veteran slugger to participate in baseball exercises before he plays his first game following the All-Star break.
Lee, the Astros’ cleanup hitter, leads the team with 45 RBIs and has 12 home runs. He is batting .382 with five homers and 20 RBIs in his last 14 games versus the Pirates.
Even without Lee, Houston improved to 7-0 against Pittsburgh (30-59) this season. The Astros have outscored the Pirates 38-15 in that stretch.
Houston is coming off its first game with former star Jeff Bagwell as its hitting coach, scoring five runs or more for just the third time in its last 10 games. Second baseman Jeff Keppinger(notes), 7 for 13 over his past three games, drove in three runs, including one with a groundout in the first inning.
“Those are the things we’ve got to do, get the big hits with two outs, and we’ve got to be able to move runners around,” Keppinger said.
Now Houston looks to take advantage of another matchup with Ohlendorf (1-7, 4.22 ERA), who has lost all six of his starts against the Astros, posting a 6.68 ERA.
Though he pitched well enough to win, Ohlendorf lost to Houston in his last outing. The right-hander gave up two runs in seven innings of a 2-0 road loss July 8.
Ohlendorf has delivered three straight strong outings, going 1-1 with a 0.90 ERA.
Houston will counter with Bud Norris(notes) (2-6, 5.97), who struggled in his last start, giving up five runs in 7 2-3 innings of an 8-0 loss to St. Louis on July 9. He has surrendered at least five runs in seven of his last nine outings.
The right-hander won his only previous start against the Pirates, allowing one run and striking out seven in six innings of a 9-1 victory Sept. 11. He seems to have an excellent opportunity for another strong performance versus Pittsburgh, which is last in the majors in runs with 286.
The Pirates are hitting .209 against the Astros this season.
Pirates leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen(notes) was batting .210 in 15 games against Houston before opening this series with a 2-for-4 performance. McCutchen hit .143 (4 for 28) in his previous eight games overall.
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