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Astros-Pirates pre-game notes

• 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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