Astros-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

Despite letting a potential victory slip away, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope to continue one of their best stretches of the season behind a starting rotation that's been one of the best in the major leagues this month.

Jeff Locke will try to pitch the Pirates to their eighth win in 10 games when they wrap up a three-game home series against the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Pittsburgh got another strong start Saturday with A.J. Burnett going seven innings, but the bullpen couldn't hold a one-run lead after six and the Pirates (25-18) lost 4-2 in 11, ending their five-game winning streak.

Pittsburgh relievers hadn't given up a run in 9 2-3 innings over the previous three games.

"You can talk about (the Astros') record, but they're all big leaguers, they're all up here for a reason,'' Burnett said.

Pittsburgh's starting rotation ranks second in the majors with a 2.59 ERA in May.

The Pirates (25-18) will look to bounce back behind Locke (3-1, 3.15 ERA), who seeks his fourth straight win. The left-hander has gone 2-0 with a 2.10 ERA in his past five starts.

He allowed three runs over six innings of a 4-3 victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday, though he didn't get a decision.

Locke yielded eight runs and 10 hits over 10 innings in a pair of losses to the Astros in September. This time, he faces a Houston team that's 12-31 but has been playing better, winning two of three after a six-game losing streak.

"Even though we've had our share of bumps and bruises, we're going to hit a stretch where we start playing well and put together a string of games like we played tonight,'' manager Bo Porter said. "It's a tremendous group of guys in that clubhouse. It's a resilient group. They have fun together. They love playing game. They play hard.''

Houston is one of the most effective teams in the majors versus left-handers, batting .287 on the season and .389 against them in the last nine games.

Ronny Cedeno (.464), Brandon Barnes (.400) and Jose Altuve (.378) have been Houston's best hitters in those matchups. Altuve, who went 3 for 5 on Saturday in his first game since being activated from the bereavement list, is 3 for 6 lifetime against Locke.

Lucas Harrell (3-4, 5.11) has struggled since a three-start winning streak, going 0-2 with an 8.79 ERA and 13 walks in his past three outings.

In his only career start at PNC Park, the right-hander allowed five runs and nine hits over five innings before leaving without a decision in an 8-7 loss July 3.

Andrew McCutchen homered in that contest and is 2 for 3 against Harrell. The center fielder is swinging a hot bat, going 7 for 14 with a homer and three doubles in his last three games.

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