MLB Insiders: Houston Astros

James McDonald

The Pirates open a four-game series with Houston on Monday night at PNC Park. Right-hander James McDonald will start for the Bucs. The Astros counter with right-hander Jordan Lyles.

The Pittsburgh Pirates return home from a successful trip hoping two of their key players will be back on the field.

It's uncertain if All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Pedro Alvarez will be in the lineup Monday night when the Pirates try to hand the struggling Houston Astros a season-high seventh straight road loss.

One day after spraining his wrist diving for a ball, McCutchen watched as Pittsburgh's four-game winning streak ended with a 5-4 loss at St. Louis on Sunday. Named to the NL All-Star team for the second straight year, McCutchen is batting .346 with 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Considered day to day, McCutchen is not the only Pirate hurting. Alvarez left in the eighth inning Sunday with leg cramps.

Despite the team's health concerns, Pittsburgh (43-35) finished 4-3 on its road trip and is one game behind first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central.

James McDonald (7-3, 2.44 ERA) will look to win his third straight start for the Pirates on Monday. Coming off his first career complete game, McDonald gave up two first-inning homers Wednesday and allowed four runs in 5 2-3, but got credit for an 11-7 victory at Philadelphia.

The right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.19 ERA in six starts versus Houston. He limited the Astros to one run and four hits and struck out eight in eight innings May 11, but got charged with a 1-0 home loss.

That victory was only Houston's fifth in its last 17 games at PNC Park.

The Astros (32-47) matched a season high with their sixth straight road defeat, falling 3-0 on Sunday at Chicago for their second shutout loss in three games. Houston has totaled 10 runs during its road skid, and five while losing four in a row overall.

Scheduled Houston starter Jordan Lyles (2-4, 4.59) has allowed three runs in 13 1-3 innings while splitting his last two starts. The right-hander snapped a personal three-game losing streak Tuesday, when he yielded a solo homer but overcame four walks in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-3 victory over San Diego.

The shortest player in baseball and one of its youngest, 2B Jose Altuve will be an All-Star in his first full season in the major leagues. Altuve got the good news from manager Brad Mills before Sunday's game against the Cubs.

"I was a little nervous when Millsie started talking about representing (the Astros) in the All-Star Game," Altuve said. "I feel really happy right now and I'm going to do the best I can to represent my team."

Altuve will be a reserve for the National League squad after finishing third in the fan vote and getting voted in by the players. He is the only Astro on the team, as shortstop Jed Lowrie, who had an excellent statistical case, was only eighth among the fans and was passed over by players and NL manager Tony La Russa.

For the season, Altuve is hitting .308, which leads all National League second basemen. He's no pure singles hitter, either, finishing Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Cubs with a .450 slugging percentage.

"The first half he's had and the way he's played has been pretty good," Mills said. "It's nice that he gets rewarded like that."

Altuve will be in uniform July 10 in Kansas City, but it's actually the day before that he's looking forward to just as much.

"I can't wait to play in the game, but something I want to be on is the grass in the Home Run Derby," Altuve said. "I used to watch that on TV since I was a little kid. I'm going to be sitting out there rooting for my team."

Notes, Quotes

1B Carlos Lee left Pittsburgh still a member of the Houston Astros, as an agreed-upon trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers requires his approval as part of a limited no-trade clause. Lee admitted the trade talks were a distraction and he went 1-for-8 in two games over the weekend while undecided on his future.

LF J.D. Martinez attempted to diagnose the Astros' offense after they scored two runs in three games against the Cubs this weekend. "We're going up there and swinging at a lot of pitchers' pitches and not making them come to us," Martinez said. "I feel like when we're good, we're patient and we're up there waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake and if he doesn't, we're not going to swing at it."

3B Chris Johnson was scratched from Sunday's game with a strained lat muscle less than an hour before the scheduled start time. Johnson injured himself on a swing before the game and is likely out Monday as well.

LHP Wandy Rodriguez allowed three runs in seven innings but got no run support in a loss to the Cubs Sunday. Rodriguez regretted a pitch that went for a double to Cubs LHP Travis Wood leading off the sixth, which was the only inning when Rodriguez allowed any runs. "I thought he would take one strike, so I threw a fastball," Rodriguez said.

2B Jose Altuve's All-Star selection comes just one year after a season that he started in Class A ball, making one of his fast-rising teammates even more impressed. "I was rooting for him the whole time," LF J.D. Martinez said. "I was with him when he called up and now for this. I'm just happy I can see him grow as a player since we were in (rookie-level) Greeneville together."

By The Numbers: 9—Players who have gone in one year from the Futures Game to the All-Star Game, including 2B Jose Altuve, who was in the 2011 Futures Game and is a 2012 National League reserve.

Quote To Note: "It's not only lefties, it's just been a struggle. It's stressful right now." —LF J.D. Martinez on the Astros' offense, which scored six runs in its last five games and is hitting .209 against lefties. Recommended Stories

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