Pittsburgh (39-77) at Houston (50-65)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX, US
Temp: 40° F
  • Game info: 2:05 pm EDT Sun Aug 15, 2010
  • TV: FSPI, FSH
Preview | Box Score | Recap

J.A. Happ(notes) has had two solid home starts sandwiched around a disastrous road outing since joining the Houston Astros.

Another game at Minute Maid Park - and his opponent - should have him feeling great about start No. 4.

Happ tries to continue his strong pitching in Houston in Sunday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hope to ignite their NL-worst offense in time to avoid a ninth straight road loss to the Astros.

Happ (2-1, 3.45 ERA) was the lone major leaguer Houston (50-65) received when it traded Roy Oswalt(notes) to Philadelphia last month, and the left-hander hasn’t disappointed in his two home starts.

He held Milwaukee to two hits over six innings in a 5-0 win July 30, and after being chased in the second inning Aug. 4 at St. Louis, he limited Atlanta to a run and two hits over 6 1-3 innings Tuesday.

The Braves scored three times in the ninth to win 4-2, and Happ was excited to bounce back.

“Tonight I was better at mixing things up and throwing more strikes,” Happ said. “I was around the plate and still kept the ball where it needed to be a lot more often tonight.”

Walks have been Happ’s one concern. He has 11 in 13 1-3 innings with the Astros and 23 in 28 2-3 overall in 2010.

The Pirates (39-77) walk only more frequently than Houston in the NL, however. Pittsburgh is far more used to striking out, which it did 17 times - 14 against starter Bud Norris(notes) - in a 3-2 loss Saturday night.

“It’s getting to be old. Our pitchers are pitching well, but we can’t get any runs for them,” manager John Russell said. “We got two runs early, and I thought that would help them relax a little bit, but we ended up striking out 17 times.”

The Pirates have been outscored 40-16 in losing all eight of its games in Houston, and facing Happ probably isn’t the best way to avoid a third consecutive sweep there. Happ was 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh with the Phillies as a rookie.

Leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen(notes) is 3 for 7 with a homer against Happ.

Jeff Karstens(notes) (2-8, 4.39) gets the ball for the Pirates hoping to end his string of five consecutive losses. He’s generally pitched well in that six-start stretch, posting a 3.71 ERA, but Pittsburgh has only scored six runs in the 34 innings he’s been on the hill.

Karstens held San Diego to three hits and two runs over six innings Tuesday in a 4-1 loss.

“There are always a couple guys that (a lack of run support) happens to, but it’s going to make me better, I believe,” Karstens told the Pirates’ official website. “It’s helping my confidence knowing that even when games are like that, I know that I can pitch and keep my team in the ballgame.”

Karstens is 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA in four games - three starts - against Houston.

Hunter Pence(notes), who homered and drove in the tiebreaking run Saturday, is 3 for 7 with a homer versus Karstens. He’s hitting .432 (16 for 37) with three homers and eight RBIs in 11 games against Pittsburgh.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Karstens PIT vs. J. Happ TOR
3-10 Record 6-4
4.92 ERA 3.40
72 K 70
27 BB 47
1.41 WHIP 1.37