Karstens leads Pirates in 1-0 shutout of Astros
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HOUSTON -- The Pirates' formula for victory Tuesday night was no secret.
Strong starting pitching, good defense, effective relief from the bullpen and a closer who consistently puts a period at the end of it all -- "It'll work well for anybody," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
It worked well enough to pick up a lackluster offensive night and give the Pirates a 1-0 win against the Houston Astros and raise their record back to .500.
Jeff Karstens once again pitched well, extending his streak of scoreless innings to 142/3. He has allowed one earned run in his past 222/3 innings and 11 hits and one walk in his past three starts. In Karstens' previous three starts before Tuesday night, though, the Pirates (33-33) scored a combined four runs.
Game: Pirates at Astros, 8:05 p.m., Minute Maid Park.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (6-3, 3.08) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (3-8, 5.04).
Key matchup: RHP Charlie Morton (6-3, 3.08) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (3-8, 5.04).
Of note: Morton is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in three career starts at Minute Maid Park.
"I feel like our pitching all year has been doing a tremendous job," Karstens said, "from starter to closer."
Karstens needed 87 pitches to finish his 62/3 innings of scoreless ball, allowing three hits and walking none. He has pitched at least 62/3 innings in each of those past three starts.
Karstens tweaked his left knee in the fourth inning. Manager Clint Hurdle and trainer Brad Henderson visited him on the mound in the seventh, when he hopped slightly after throwing a pitch, but he remained in the game.
"I don't think it's anything serious," Karstens said.
"It just looked like he wasn't finishing his pitches the same way," Hurdle said.
Karstens left the game after allowing a two-out single to Carlos Lee in the seventh. Chris Resop replaced him and struck out Jeff Keppinger looking to end the inning.
Five relievers combined to throw 21/3 innings of scoreless ball, and closer Joel Hanrahan earned his 18th save.
"Very, very impressive outing gain for Joel, without a doubt," Hurdle said.
Tony Watson, Tim Wood and Jose Veras handed the game to Hanrahan. The Astros put two men on in the eighth when Chris Johnson singled and pinch-hitter Matt Downs walked, but Veras got the final two outs inning to preserve the Pirates' 1-0 lead.
"I just went out there aggressive and tried to throw a strike to the first hitter that I faced," said Veras, who had struggled earlier this month but threw a perfect 2/3 innings Tuesday.
"[Hurdle] trusts each one in the bullpen. Everyone in the bullpen, you can count on."
The defense, although overshadowed by the pitching, played well. Ronny Cedeno dived to snag a line drive on the final out of the game, and the outfielders made several nice running catches. That might not be an accident.
"We've been able to pitch the zone, so we're actually able to set our defense specifically and expect the ball to be hit in those areas, and that's what's happening, more often than not," Hurdle said.
The machine-like way in which the Pirates assembled the victory left some leeway for missing parts. The offense struggled to put runners on base despite hitting several balls hard.
"That's an area that all of us inside this clubhouse are aware we need to improve," said Hurdle.
The Pirates scored their run early. Neil Walker singled to lead off the second and went to second on a wild pitch. Garrett Jones' single scored Walker to make it 1-0.
Brett Wallace singled for Houston in the fifth, but nothing came of it as Karstens threw 63 pitches in five innings to Astros starter Bud Norris' 82. Norris struggled to locate his pitches, losing his changeup over the outside corner against left-handers.
When he managed to locate the changeup, though, he had the Pirates out in front of it. He struck out nine in seven innings, allowing six hits.
"He was trying to get us out with his off-speed [stuff], working his slider to righties, his changeup to lefties," Andrew McCutchen said. "He didn't throw too many fastballs for strikes."
McCutchen singled in the sixth, extending his hit streak to 13 games, tying his career high, and Walker singled. Jones and Lyle Overbay struck out and Michael McKenry grounded out as the Pirates could not score to end the threat.
First Published June 15, 2011 12:33 am