The Pittsburgh Pirates managed to stop their latest skid at four, but if they want to have any shot at reaching the postseason for the first time in 20 years, they need to take advantage of their next four games as well.
The Pirates look to avoid becoming the first NL team this season to lose a home series to the Astros on Wednesday night as they continue a key stretch against baseball's bottom-feeders.
Houston and the Chicago Cubs are the NL's only clubs with worse records since Aug. 1 than Pittsburgh, which headed into Tuesday at 11-20 in that span after Monday's 5-1 loss to the Astros.
The Pirates (71-64) recovered for a 6-2 win Tuesday behind four hits apiece from infielder Brock Holt and center fielder Andrew McCutchen , allowing them to stay within 2 1/2 game of St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot.
McCutchen, who had been leading the major leagues in batting average until recently and hit just .252 in August, boosted his overall average back to .347 - a point ahead of suspended Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera ."That will take care of itself," McCutchen said of a possible batting title. "I just need to do what I do here. That's coming out and playing hard. That's all I can worry about."
Pittsburgh hasn't won more than two in a row since a four-game streak against the Cubs and Astros (42-94) from July 25-28, but it could desperately use a hot streak the remainder of this week. Following the finale with Houston, Chicago comes to town for three games.
Including Wednesday's contest, 11 of the Pirates' final 27 games are against the majors' two worst teams.
Houston, 14-54 away from home, gets another chance to win its second road series of 2012. It beat the Chicago White Sox twice from June 8-10.
Taking another game in Pittsburgh seems highly unlikely if the Astros can't contain McCutchen. The MVP candidate is 19 for 38 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 10 home games in this series, and half of his major league-leading six four-hit games have come against Houston at PNC in 2012.
McCutchen singled in his only career at-bat against Fernando Abad (0-2, 4.83 ERA), who hasn't looked good in his first two major league starts after spending parts of three seasons in the bullpen. The left-hander allowed nine baserunners but just one run over four innings in a 3-1 loss to the Mets on Aug. 25, then was rocked for six runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 in a 9-3 loss to Cincinnati on Friday."We tried to get him stretched out, but you know it's about executing pitches," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said of Abad, who's 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in eight appearances against Pittsburgh.
His last two appearances have been in long relief, most recently pitching four scoreless innings at Milwaukee on Friday.
The right-hander held the Astros to three runs over six innings in a 6-4 home win July 4, but surrendered four in two innings of relief at Minute Maid Park on July 29.
|August 30, 2012||Marwin Gonzalez||Day-to-Day||Torn ligament, left ankle|
|August 28, 2012||Bud Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - blister|
|August 22, 2012||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Bruised right index finger|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|August 31, 2012||Jeff Karstens||Day-to-Day||Hip flexor|
|August 27, 2012||Neil Walker||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|August 25, 2012||Jose Tabata||Day-to-Day||Left game - left groin discomfort|
|August 25, 2012||Chad Qualls||15-Day DL||Left toe sprain|
|August 19, 2012||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|August 15, 2012||Neil Walker||Day-to-Day||Dislocated finger|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Kevin Correia and Alex Presley used rare starts to make big contributions for the Pittsburgh Pirates .
Correia pitched six solid innings and Presley had two hits and scored three runs as Pittsburgh beat the Houston Astros 6-3 on Wednesday night to gain ground in the wild-card race.
"At this time of year, it's all about winning," Presley said. "You need everybody doing everything they can do to help the team win."
Correia stepped into the Pirates' rotation for right-hander Jeff Karstens , who injured his right hip Friday in a start at Milwaukee, and allowed just one run and four hits. Correia also walked one and struck out one.
Correia (10-8) pitched four scoreless innings of relief against the Brewers in the game in which Karstens was injured. Correia began the season in the starting rotation but was bumped to the bullpen when the Pirates acquired left-hander Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros in a trade on July 24.
Houston fell to 53 games under .500 at 42-95.
Presley was playing in place of left fielder Jose Tabata , who bruised his left foot on Tuesday night when he fouled a pitch off it and still felt pain after taking batting practice before Wednesday's game.
Pirates rookie Brock Holt had two RBIs one night after getting four hits in his fourth major league game and Gaby Sanchez had three hits for Pittsburgh, which pulled within 1 1-2 games of St. Louis in the race for the second National League wild-card spot.
Correia reached double-digit wins for the fourth consecutive season.
"It's just a number but you do want to win as many games as possible because that's your job as a pitcher," Correia said. "The biggest thing you want to do, though, is give your team a chance to win."
Correia did that Wednesday when the Pirates needed him to come through after the Cardinals lost 6-2 to the Mets earlier in the day.
"He gave us a very professional effort," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He moved the ball in and out and kept them off balance. It was a good job."
Presley began the season as the Pirates' leadoff hitter but was twice sent down to Triple-A Indianapolis. He returned to the major leagues Friday with no guarantee of playing time.
"I had an inkling I might start because I saw Tabata hobbling around the clubhouse," Presley said. "Finding out late really didn't make a difference because I've started before. I'm just happy I was able to make a contribution."
Hurdle thought the good performance would be a confidence booster for Presley.
"He has to feel good about that," Hurdle said. "Alex can play and Alex can hit. The problem has been finding a consistent rhythm at this level."
Brandon Laird , yet another injury replacement, provided Houston's highlight with his first major league home run, a two-run, two-out shot in the ninth inning off Jason Grilli . Laird took over at third base in the sixth inning when Scott Moore strained his right groin while fielding a bunt by Holt.
Laird struck out swinging in his first at-bat in the seventh inning against Jared Hughes but was more prepared in the ninth.
"Everybody always tells me, be ready and that's what I was," Laird said. "I went in there and the first at-bat chased a couple bad pitches. I just wanted to go up there right there and see it before I swung and that's what I did and got a good swing on it."
Houston left-hander Fernando Abad (0-3) had another rough start in his conversion to the rotation from the bullpen. He was rocked for six runs - five earned - in four innings. Abad has lost all three starts and has an 8.03 ERA in those games.
Abad's poor performance cost Houston the opportunity to win the three-game series.
"I thought Abad could give us a chance but unfortunately we got down again early," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "It's getting frustrating for us."
Pittsburgh scored two runs off Abad in the first and another in the second to take a 3-0 lead. Garrett Jones and Sanchez hit consecutive RBI singles in the first and Holt singled in a run in the second.
After Houston got its lone run in the top of the fourth when Jimmy Paredes doubled and scored on Brian Bogusevic 's single, Pittsburgh answered with two runs in the bottom half to increase its lead to 5-1. Presley tripled in a run and scored on a sacrifice fly by Holt.
A squeeze by Clint Barmes brought home a sixth-inning run for the Pirates.
NOTES: Houston RF Fernando Martinez (skin irritation) was a late scratch and replaced by OF J.D. Martinez. . Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker (lower back stiffness) missed his ninth straight game, is unlikely to return Friday night for the opener of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs as originally hoped. RF Travis Snider (strained right hamstring) sat out after being injured running the bases Tuesday but hopes to play on Friday. . Houston expects SS Jed Lowrie (sprained right ankle) to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment this weekend after being on the disabled list since July 15 with a sprained right ankle. . Both teams are off Thursday. On Friday night, Pittsburgh RHP A.J. Burnett (15-5, 3.63) will face Cubs LHP Travis Wood (4-11, 4.64) while Houston RHP Lucas Harrell (10-9, 3.81) will oppose Reds RHP Hector Bailey (10-9, 4.09) in the first game of a three-game series at Cincinnati.