HOUSTON (AP) - Pittsburgh starter James McDonald continues to give the Pirates good starts.
The Pirates, however, couldn't give McDonald any support against Houston starter J.A. Happ and one inning doomed the right-hander as Pittsburgh continues to struggle.
Happ allowed three hits and struck out six over seven innings and the Astros beat the Pirates 2-0 on Wednesday night for a sweep of the three-game series.
McDonald (8-7) allowed seven hits, two walks and struck out six in six innings. He had won five of his previous seven decisions.
``I felt well,' McDonald said. ``I lost focus that one inning that I walked the leadoff hitter. Leadoff walks kill you. It showed tonight. I kind of stepped back and stayed calm and thought about one pitch at a time. I was happy with the way I worked out of some situations.'
McDonald has gone at least six innings in five of his last six starts and has a 3.93 ERA since Aug. 4. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he thought McDonald pitched very well.
``We are trying to monitor James and his pitches and innings pitched,' Hurdle said. ``It was an extended first inning. He settled down. They scored two runs without the ball leaving the infield. He continued to make strides. He had a very crisp fastball, especially when he was throwing it up in the zone.'
In the fourth inning the Astros pieced together two runs on a groundout and an infield hit.
Jimmy Paredes walked to start the fourth and Angel Sanchez singled, sending Paredes to third.
Humberto Quintero hit a dribbler in front of home plate and was thrown out at first with Paredes scoring. Paredes started to go home on the play, but Pittsburgh catcher Ryan Doumit looked him back.
After Doumit threw to first, Paredes broke for home, and Garrett Jones' throw to the plate was too far up the line for McDonald, who was covering the plate, to make a play.
``I saw as soon as Doumit went to throw that he (Paredes) had a good jump, so I tried to throw and get rid of it quick,' Jones said. ``I think James couldn't get his feet set and the throw was up the line a bit. It's a bang-bang play.
``If there was a throw right on the money, we would have had a better chance to get him, but I'm not sure if we would. He had a good jump. It's tough also for a pitcher to get back there and make that play.'
Hurdle said Doumit made the right play to stop Paredes, look him back and throw it to first.
``We have to be able to execute throwing the ball 90 feet,' Hurdle said. ``I do think that James might have been caught a little bit off guard. I'm not sure if the positioning of the plate is where it needed to be and the throw was off line.
``Ryan stopped him, looked him back, made an accurate snap throw to first. We have to be able to throw the ball first to home and get the out there.'
Jordan Schafer's infield hit toward first base scored Sanchez for a 2-0 lead.
Despite having the worst record in baseball (47-90), the Astros have won five of their last seven overall and seven of their last eight at home. Houston's other sweep this season was against the Chicago Cubs May 30-June 1.
Happ (5-15) had his second strong outing since returning from Triple-A Oklahoma City. He didn't allow a runner past first base and walked one. It was Happ's first major league victory since July 19.
``He was throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters,' Jones said of Happ. ``He was mixing it up, going in and going away. He was keeping the ball in the corners of the plate and didn't walk so many guys. He came after us, and we had a problem squaring it up.'
Pittsburgh has lost four straight and 11 of its last 15 and has scored five or more runs just four times in that span.
``They're being efficient with their pitches,' Hurdle said of the Astros' pitchers. ``We have balls to hit. We had some flyball outs. Sometimes we are just getting big with our swing and getting underneath it instead of just putting a good swing on it and trying to backspin it.'
Mark Melancon pitched the ninth for his 16th save in 21 opportunities.
Notes: The Pirates traded OF Matt Diaz to Atlanta for a player to be named or cash and sent Triple-A OF John Bowker to Philadelphia for a player to be named or cash. ... Pittsburgh's J.D. Martinez has 28 RBIs in August, one short of tying the NL rookie record for August. David Justice (1990) and Todd Helton (1998) currently share the record. ... The Astros will recall RHP Lucas Harrell to pitch Friday night against Milwaukee. Harrell is pitching in place of Brett Myers, whose wife Kim, is expecting their fourth child. ... Pirates SS Randy Cedeno had his five-game hitting streak snapped.
The Associated Press News Service
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