HOUSTON -- Detroit Tigers reserve Don Kelly sported the type of numbers against left-handed pitching that foreshadowed failure when he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the top of the 14th inning against Houston Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel.
However, his recent success against southpaws trumped what a career of struggles might have suggested.
Kelly bounced an RBI single into right field to snap a lengthy stalemate and ignite a four-run inning, and the Tigers rode an exceptional bullpen performance to a 7-3 win Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
A career .183 hitter against left-handed pitching, Kelly was actually 2-for-5 against southpaws this season before he saddled Keuchel (0-1) with his first runs after the lefty threw four scoreless innings.
The Astros intentionally walked sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to face Kelly, who plated Austin Jackson with the winning run.
"I was just trying to get a pitch in the zone, a good pitch to hit," said Kelly, who entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch runner for Victor Martinez. "I was able to lay off two pretty good pitches."
Matt Tuiasosopo added a two-run double off Jose Cisnero before Jhonny Peralta capped the four-run frame with a sacrifice fly to right that scored Kelly. The Tigers stranded 13 baserunners, but their bullpen set the table for Kelly to play the role of hero.
Right-hander Luke Putkonen (1-0) earned his first major league win after being recalled from Triple-A Toledo earlier Thursday. He followed right-handers Jose Ortega and Joaquin Benoit and left-hander Darin Downs, and he capped seven scoreless innings from the Detroit bullpen.
"They did a great job," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Everybody that came out of there did a fantastic job. That's what we had to do because when you're on the road particularly and you don't get the last at-bat, you've got your back against the wall. They did a terrific job."
Each team struck out 18 times. Detroit extended its American League record by fanning at least 10 opponents in its seventh consecutive game. The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff holds the major league record with eight straight games with 10-plus strikeouts.
Astros right-hander Jordan Lyles, recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City along with Keuchel before the game, delivered in his first major league start of the season.
He retired seven of the first eight batters he faced before hitting a rough patch in the third inning, surrendering four consecutive hits to Omar Infante, Jackson, Torii Hunter and Cabrera. Hunter and Cabrera delivered run-scoring singles, with Cabrera notching his 1,000th hit in a Detroit uniform. The rally erased a 2-0 lead Houston built in the first.
Lyles departed after five innings, having allowed two runs on six hits and one walk with six strikeouts. He threw 79 pitches, 54 for strikes.
"Overall pretty decent," Lyles said of his outing. "The first inning I came out and established the fastball. I thought I did a pretty good job."
Houston designated hitter Carlos Pena drilled the first pitch of his second at-bat into the Crawford Boxes in left field, giving the Astros a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello had retired nine consecutive batters before that hiccup, his previous trouble spot coming in the first when catcher Jason Castro bashed a two-run, opposite-field home run to left.
Porcello settled down and completed seven innings. His relief corps proved capable of keeping the Astros at bay for the rest of the evening, which was a tick better than the stellar work Keuchel provided Houston.
"He did a great job," Astros manager Bo Porter said of Keuchel. "Even if you look at the (winning) base hit, if the ball is hit one more step to the right, (first baseman) Brandon Laird fields the ball, throws the ball home and we throw the ball back to first and it's a double play. But it's the luck of the draw."
NOTES: To clear room on the roster for Lyles and Keuchel, the Astros optioned RHPs Brad Peacock and Rhiner Cruz to Oklahoma City. ... Putkonen replaced RHP Bruce Rondon, who was demoted after Wednesday's game. ... Houston's Jose Altuve set a club record for hits by a second baseman in the month of April with 35 hits. Craig Biggio held the old mark of 33, set in 1998. Altuve went 0-for-5 Thursday. ... The Astros' combined record for their minor league clubs through Wednesday, 61-40, ranked second among all organizations to the Minnesota Twins' 63-38 mark.