Veal goes on DL

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Donnie Veal is on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to yesterday) with a strained right groin. Veal was injured while pitching Friday night. The Pirates will make a corresponding roster move tomorrow — perhaps an opportunity to get a look at recently acquired righty Eric Hacker.

• Those Nate McLouth bobblehead dolls from a couple of weeks back already are outdated. McLouth is sporting a new haircut, with short locks instead of his trademark combed-back look.

• To be a bit more timely with the lineups, I’ll post them via Twitter as well as on this blog every day. The tweets usually will be available before the blog updates. Search for “RobBiertempfel” to follow my tweets about all things Buccos (and other random stuff).

• Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1.Nate McLouth cf, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 4. Craig Monroe lf, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Robinzon Diaz c, 7. Brandon Moss rf, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. Paul Maholm (3-1, 4.11) lhp

ASTROS — 1. Edwin Maysonet 2b, 2. Miguel Tejada ss, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Lance Berkman 1b, 6. Jason Michaels cf, 7. Jeff Keppinger 3b, 8. Humberto Quintero c, 9. Mike Hampton (2-4, 5.62) lhp

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Pirates outlast Astros

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Give this to the Pirates — they keep you guessing.

One day after being shackled by a 37-year-old right-hander who allows nearly a run an inning, the Pirates knocked around the pitcher with the second-best ERA in baseball.

Go figure.

The Pirates held off a late scare and beat the Astros and 1.71-ERA-toting Wandy Rodriguez, 7-4, on Saturday night in front of a sold-out Skyblast crowd at PNC Park.

Jeff Karstens (2-2) won for the first time since April 21. He pitched seven innings, his longest outing of the season. He allowed two runs on six hits and matched his season-high with four strikeouts.

It was only Karstens’ second victory in his past 15 starts, dating to the two-hitter at Arizona last Aug. 6. He believed his spot in the rotation was slipping after he struggled in back-to-back starts against the Brewers and the Reds four weeks ago.

“I was on the verge of being sent out,” he said.

Since then, Karstens has three quality starts in five outings and hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs in any start.

“I knew from the beginning that my job was on the line,” he said. “I wasn’t pitching well. It was a reality check. I went home and had to look at myself. I’ve taken a step forward and done what I’ve needed to prepare myself.”

The Pirates’ offense helped. They led 3-0 after one inning and handed Rodriguez, whose ERA entering the game trailed only Zach Greinke, his worst outing since July 30, a span of 18 starts.

Eric Hinske, part of a lineup that didn’t include regulars Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche and Brandon Moss, went 3 for 3. Freddy Sanchez, Andy LaRoche and Jack Wilson each went 2 for 4 as part of a 13-hit attack.

Six different players drove in runs for the Pirates, who snapped a three-game losing streak and avoided falling into a last-place tie with the Astros in the NL Central.

It wasn’t without some late drama. The Astros scored two runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded, but Matt Capps – pitching for the first time since the line-drive to his right elbow six days ago — got clean-up hitter Carlos Lee to ground out to second to end the game for his 10th save.

The Pirates tagged Rodriguez for five earned runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. They scored as many runs in the first inning (three) as Rodriguez had allowed in any of his 10 previous starts this season.

With a packed house of 37,167 fans eagerly awaiting the post-game fireworks show and Zac Brown Band concert, the Astros made them wait a bit in the ninth. After getting two quicks outs in the ninth, Tom Gorzelanny loaded the bases with a walk, a double and a walk.

Capps hit Miguel Tejada with a pitch to score one run and walked Lance Berkman for another run for a 7-4 score. But Capps got Lee to ground out, and the music and fireworks followed.

“I was a little too emotional, a little too excited, a little too amped out there,” Capps said. “I was able to calm myself down and get the out when I needed it.”

— John Grupp

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Astros-Pirates pre-game notes

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• Manager John Russell said a day off might help slumping Nate McLouth, mired in a 1 for 25 skid. McLouth’s average has dipped to .250 after being as high as .306 earlier in the month. A .286 career hitter against Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, McLouth, perhaps trying to shake the slump with a new close-cropped haircut, will return to the lineup on Sunday against Mike Hampton.

“Nate is going through a little bit of a struggle,” Russell said. “We’re just giving him a break to mentally regroup a little bit. Giving him the day off will be good for him.”

Adam LaRoche, a .417 career hitter against Rodriguez, also isn’t in the starting lineup (although he is a prime pinch-hitting candidate). Left-handed hitters are batting .125 this season against Rodriguez, who ranks No. 2 in the majors with a 1.71 ERA.

“This guy is pretty tough on left-handers,” Russell said.

• Russell praised the work of Donnie Veal, who allowed one run on three hits in two innings of relief on Friday night. It was Veal’s first appearance since May 8. Opponents are batting .217 against the 6-foot-4 left-handed Veal, a Rule 5 draft pick who must remain on the Pirates’ 25-man roster for the entire season or they risk losing him.

“There’s about 20-something teams that would claim Donnie Veal,” Russell said. “We are happy to have him. He’s making progress. He works awfully hard. Without pitching for three weeks and to do what he did last night, that’s pretty phenomenal.”

&#149 This is the first Skybast of the season. The Zac Brown Band will play after the game to a background of fireworks.

• Second baseman Edwin Maysonet, the hero of the Astros’ 6-1 victory over the Pirates on Friday after going 4 for 4 with four RBI, is back in the No. 8 spot in an Astros lineup unchanged from the previous day.

— John Grupp

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Astros-Pirates starting lineups, McLouth sitting h

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Nate McLouth, Brandon Moss and Adam LaRoche are out of the starting lineup against left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, and Andy LaRoche — hitting .435 in his past 13 games — is batting second for the first time this season, as the Pirates play the Astros at 7:05 p.m. at PNC Park in a Skyblast game.

Craig Monroe is hitting fourth and starting in left, Delwyn Young is starting in right field and Eric Hinske will man first for the Pirates. The Astros are using the same lineup as last night’s 6-1 win.

Here are the starting lineups

ASTROS – 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Miguel Tejada ss, 3. Lance Berkman 1b, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Ivan Rodriguez c, 7. Jeff Keppinger 3b, 8. Edwin Maysonet 2b, 1. lhp Wandy Rodriguez (5-3, 1.71 ERA)

PIRATES – 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 4. Craig Monroe lf, 5. Eric Hinske 1b, 6. Delwyn Young rf, 7. Robinzon Diaz c, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. rhp Jeff Karstens (1-2, 5.19)

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Pirates fall to Astros 6-1

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Brian Moehler pitched his first complete game in nearly nine years and the Pirates fell to the Astros, 6-1, on Friday night at PNC Park

Rookie Edwin Maysonet went 4 for 4 with four RBI, as the Astros, mired in a slump that reportedly had manager Cecil Cooper’s job in jeopardy, amassed 15 hits against four Pirates pitchers.

The Pirates didn’t score until Jason Jaramillo’s RBI-groundout in the ninth inning off Moehler, who struck out four and walked one while throwing a season-high 123 pitches.

Freddy Sanchez and Andy LaRoche each had two hits and Ross Ohlendorf (5-5) took the loss for the Pirates, who were starting a streak of 16 games in 16 days.

The Pirates never had a chance to call on closer Matt Capps, who was cleared to pitch five days after being struck in the right elbow with a line-drive at Wrigley Field.

— By John Grupp

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Astros-Pirates pre-game notes; Capps available

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&#149 Closer Matt Capps is cleared to pitch tonight, four days after being struck in the right elbow with a line drive at Wrigley Field. Capps threw a side session Thursday. Russell said he won’t hesitate to call on him tonight.

“He’s good to go,” Russell said. “It was a scary moment, but it feels good and nothing really happened. He’s cleared to go.”

&#149 Injured catcher Ryan Doumit (right wrist) began range-of-motion exercises Friday afternoon and could catch some bullpen sessions Saturday (he can only catch, not throw the ball back to the pitcher), but he remains at least three weeks away from a return to the lineup.

Doumit is scheduled to undergo a CT scan on or about June 15, and then, if all goes well, begin a rehabilitation assignment. The Pirates said Doumit remains on the “eight-to-10 week time-frame” since the April 23 surgery.

“Right now my wrist feels great,” Doumit said. “I got great feedback from the doctor. He said the bone looks great.”

While not permitted to do any baseball-related activities, Doumit can work on conditioning and strengthening the right wrist. His range-of-motion rehab included using a rice bucket, in which he would bury his right hand, and squeeze and turn the wrist.

“Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m antsy,” Doumit said. “I’m anxious to get back. If the decision were up to me, I’d want to play right now.”

&#149 Struggling Ian Snell worked with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan before batting practice, throwing from the mound at PNC Park. Snell pitched mainly from the stretch with Kerrigan’s “batting dummy” along the right-side of the plate. Snell is 1-6 with a 5.43 ERA this year.

“It’s just a tune-up session for him to re-emphasize some things,” Russell said. “Joe wanted to give him a pretty good workout today and he did.”

&#149 Russell said a decision on when to return Tom Gorzelanny to a starting role — in the minors — will be made soon. The left-hander, promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis on May 17, is 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four appearances since replacing Tyler Yates (right elbow) in the bullpen. “At some point, we’ve got to make a decision,” Russell said. “He’s done a nice job, but as an organization, we’d like to see him do that as a starter.”

— John Grupp

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Astros-Pirates starting lineups

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Here are the starting lineups for the Astros-Pirates game tonight at PNC Park, as the teams open a three-game series at 7:05 p.m.

ASTROS — 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Migeul Tejara ss, 3. Lance Berkman 1b, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Ivan Rodriguez c, 7. Jeff Keppinger 3b, 8. Edwin Maysonet 2b, 9. rhp Brian Moehler (1-3. 8.31)

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Brandon Moss rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. J.J. Jaramillo c, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. Ross Olhendorf (5-4, 4.20)

— By John Grupp

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No DL for Capps

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CHICAGO — A final decision won’t be made until tomorrow or Friday, but it seems safe to say Matt Capps will not go on the disabled list.

Capps was struck by a line drive on his right elbow Monday night. This morning, he threw long toss — about 25 throws from 120 feet — at Wrigley Field.

“No pain right now,” Capps said a few minutes ago in the Pirates’ clubhouse. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll be able to throw off a mound tomorrow.”

The Pirates are off Thursday. If Capps doesn’t have much residual pain tomorrow and can throw off a mound, he should be gain-ready within a couple of days.

“I don’t think I ever thought about the disabled list,” manager John Russell said. “We didn’t think it was going to be a two-week thing.”

• Reliever Tyler Yates (elbow) under went another round of medical tests Tuesday in Pittsburgh. “Everything went good,” Russell said. Yates is eligible to come off the DL Sunday, but will not be ready by then because he has not yet thrown off a mound. He is slated to do some light tossing today and tomorrow in Pittsburgh.

• Calm down, conspiracy theorists. Manager John Russell said a few days ago that he was going to give Freddy Sanchez a game off sometime during the six-game stint in Chicago. It’s happening today, with Delwyn Young starting at second base. Sanchez had started the past 15 games in a row — so the theory the Pirates are trying to sandbag his contract option for 2010 (which triggers automatically if Sanchez makes 635 plate appearances) isn’t looking too valid at the moment. Then again, it’s only May. If Sanchez is getting multiple off days in August and September, then the Pirates will be open to criticism. (Assuming Sanchez is still with the club in August or September.)

• To be a bit more timely with the lineups, I’m going to try to post them via Twitter as well as on this blog every day. Search for “RobBiertempfel” to follow my tweets about all things Buccos (and other random stuff, too).

• Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1.Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Andy LaRoche 3b, 6. Brandon Moss rf, 7. Ramon Vazquez ss, 8. Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Zach Duke (5-4, 2.77) lhp

CUBS — 1. Alfonso Soriano lf, 2. Ryan Theriot ss, 3. Kosuke Fukudome cf, 4. Milton Bradley rf, 5. Micah Hoffpauir 1b, 6. Mike Fontenot 2b, 7. Koyie Hill c, 8. Ryan Freel 3b, 9. Carlos Zambrano (3-2, 4.64) rhp

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Grabow will close; Capps DL decision on hold

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CHICAGO — Matt Capps pulled out his cell phone and called up a picture. It was taken in a mirror and showed Capps’ red, swollen right elbow … clearly bearing the imprint of a major-league baseball.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Capps said.

After being stuck by Geovany Soto’s line drive, Capps said his elbow did not begin to hurt until after he left the field and got inside the Pirates’ clubhouse.

“It was a shooting pain going down my arm into my ring finger and pinky,” he said. “It hurt and tingled. When it first happened, it sounded like a shotgun going off right beside me. I thought everything in my elbow was just blown up.”

Manager John Russell said Capps’ injury will be monitored closely the next couple of days. The Pirates are off Thursday, so it should be clear Friday whether or not he’ll have to go on the disabled list.

“I’m pretty sore right now,” Capps said. “There’s no way I could play catch today. I don’t know if I’ll be able to play catch tomorrow. Who knows? We’ve done a good job of icing it and keep the inflammation down.”

Capps said the ball hit in “pretty much” the same spot where he had a bone bruise, which put him on the DL earlier this month.

• John Grabow will be at the top of the list of candidates to close games while Capps is out. Sean Burnett finished Monday’s game, as Grabow had already pitched.

“We’ve got some arms down there who, we’re very confident, have the stuff to be able to pitch late in the game,” Russell said. “We’ll see where we’re at in the game and make a decision on who we want out there in the ninth.”

• Russell re-iterated that lefty Paul Maholm is healthy. Maholm is winless in his past six starts and his ERA is up to 4.11. Last night, he allowed seven runs in four innings.

“It’s just one of those things he’s going through,” Russell said. “I’m not worried about it. He works hard and has a good head on his shoulders. He’s going through a little bit of a inconsistent time. He’ll figure it out.”

• Capps’ injury was just the final blow in a long, wild game last night at Wrigley Field.

“It was one of those games where you saw everything,” Russell said. “Home runs, bloop hits, broken-bat hits. Guys getting hit in the back on throws. (Coach Luis) Dorante got hit on the rear end (by a foul ball) while he was in the bullpen. We saw good pitching, a lot of runs, good defense. It was one of those games. At Wrigley Field, I think, there’s been a lot of games like that. No lead is ever safe here.”

Is it fun to manage amid such a circus?

“There’s a lot of things you think about,” Russell said, smiling. “You try to set up a plan of how you’re going to get through it, because you’ve got a lot of innings to cover. Most times — Joe (Kerrigan, pitching coach) and I have talked about this — you should try not to deviate from the plan. When we’ve done that, it’s worked pretty good for us.”

• Lineups for today’s game (updated with Cubs’ info):

PIRATES — 1.Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 5. Craig Monroe rf, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Robinzon Diaz c, 8. Jack Wilson ss. 9. Ian Snell (1-5, 4.88) rhp.

CUBS — 1. Alfonso Soriano lf, 2. Ryan Theriot ss, 3. Kosuke Fukudome cf, 4. Milton Bradley rf, 5. Micah Hoffpauir 1b, 6. Mike Fontenot 2b, 7. Koyie Hill c, 8. Ryan Freel 3b, 9. Sean Marshall (2-3, 3.96) lhp

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Injury updates

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CHICAGO — A laundry list of injury updates:

… “We dodged a bullet,” was how GM Neal Huntington described Matt Capps’ elbow injury after he was struck by a line drive last night. X-rays were negative and Capps will be re-evaluated this afternoon by doctors. No word yet on whether Capps will go back on the disabled list.

… Craig Hansen (neck spasms) had his medical exams today and the Pirates are awaiting the results.

… Ryan Doumit (fractured bone in right wrist) will have a CT scan Thursday in Pittsburgh. Doumit already has been out five weeks. Even if the CT scan shows the injury is healing quickly, the Pirates will be ultra-cautious with Doumit — meaning he could be out up to another seven weeks.

• Obviously, the Pirates do not want to rush Doumit back any quicker than necessary if it possibly would put him at risk for further injury. But I have to wonder … if management takes a slow, cautious approach with getting their cleanup hitter back in the lineup, isn’t that akin to raising the white flag on the season? It’s a fine line, to be sure.

• Some more info about Freddy Sanchez’s 6-for-6 night at the plate yesterday:

… It’s the second time this season a player has accomplished the feat. The first was Ian Kinsler, who did it in a nine-inning game April 15 while hitting for the cycle.

… The last National Leaguer before Sanchez to do it was the Cards’ Skip Schumaker, who went 6 for 7 in a 14-inning game July 26, 2008, against the Mets.

… The last NL player before Sanchez to go 6 for 6 in a nine-inning game was the Braves’ Willie Harris on July 21, 2007, against the Cards.

• To be a bit more timely with the lineups, I’m going to try to post them via Twitter as well as on this blog every day. Search for “RobBiertempfel” to follow my tweets about all things Buccos (and other random stuff, too).

• Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 5. Craig Monroe rf, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Robinzon Diaz c, 8. Jack Wilson ss. 9. Ian Snell (1-5, 4.88) rhp.

CUBS — TBA 9. Sean Marshall (2-3, 3.96) lhp

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