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Pregame: McCutchen saves the pen

HOUSTON — Lost amid the flurry of late-game runs in the Pirates’ 7-3 victory Wednesday was a fine performance by middle reliever Daniel McCutchen. The right-hander tossed three scoreless innings, giving his mates time to extend their lead and saving the bullpen from being overworked.
“We really needed something from somebody tonight,” manager Clint Hurdle said, noting that Joel Hanrahan, Jose Veras and Tim Wood each went into the game having pitched in the two previous games. “Danny giving us three was good. McCutchen really stepped up for us tonight.”
It was McCutchen’s longest outing since spring training. He faced 13 batters and threw 52 pitches (31 strikes).
“Frankie (Velasquez, conditioning coordinator) does a great job keeping us in shape in case a situation like that comes up,” McCutchen said. “Charlie (Morton) pitched and kept us in it, then it was up to me to keep us in it, then Hanrahan shut the door. The whole team is playing with lot of confidence.”

»»» Hanrahan got the final two outs to rack up his 19th save. But it also means he will not be available to pitch Thursday in the series finale. It’s no stretch to say that Hanny, who’s notched 21 straight saves, is the frontrunner to be the Pirates’ All-Star rep.

»»» Catcher Mike McKenry got his first career hit, a soft single over the head of shortstop Clint Barmes in the second inning. It came off lefty J.A. Happ. McKenry singled again in the seventh and was on base when Xavier Paul homered.

»»» Garrett Jones today will start at first base for the first time this season. Lyle Overbay is mired in a 1-for-16 funk and is hitting .220 (11 for 50) in June.

»» Here’s some food for thought: yesterday, the Padres DFA’d infielder Jorge Cantu. A right-handed hitter, he’s got some versatility — he can play first, third or even second base in a pinch. He has shown power in the past, but hit just .194 with three homers in 57 games this season. He spent last season with the Rangers and Marlins and hit a combined .256 with 11 homers in 127 games. Cantu, 29, had his best season in 2008, when he hit .277 with 29 homers and 95 RBI for the Marlins.

»»» Josh Harrison, who got a new shipment of bats this morning, is back in the lineup after missing a few days with a sore oblique.

»»» Andrew McCutchen is riding a 14-game hitting streak, the longest by a Pirate since Jose Tabata had a 14-game string from Aug. 23-Sept. 12, 2010. During his run, McCutchen is hitting .479 and has boosted his batting average 46 points to .293. If he keeps up that kind of pace, McCutchen will be squarely in the mix for an All-Star bid.

»»» Neil Walker has hit safely in each of his past 11 road games — going 17 for 44 (.386) with 12 RBI in that stretch. Since May 2, he’s hit safely in 18 of his past 19 road games.

»»» The Pirates and Astros combined to strand 27 baserunners Wednesday. That’s the most in a Pirates game since April 7, 2008, when they and Chicago Cubs left 27 on base. “We could’ve used a few more (hits) to stretch things out,” Hurdle said.

Lineups for today’s game:
Pirates (34-33) — 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Xavier Paul rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Garrett Jones 1b, 6. Josh Harrison 3b, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Dusty Brown c, 9. James McDonald rhp (4-4, 4.80)
Astros (25-44) — 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Brett Wallace 1b, 6. Matt Downs 3b, 7. Angel Sanchez ss, 8. Carlos Corporan c, 9. Jordan Lyles rhp (0-1, 4.15)

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