PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Houston Astros have been swinging a little too freely for manager Dusty Baker’s liking during their somewhat sluggish start.
A more patient approach against Pittsburgh on Monday night paid off with the kind of performance Baker hopes to see more regularly going forward.
Yordan Alvarez had three hits and boosted his RBI total to a major-league-leading 16 and Kyle Tucker added two hits and drove in three runs as Houston breezed past the Pirates 8-2.
Perhaps just as promising for the Astros was the way they produced their runs. Houston didn’t record a home run among its 13 hits but collected eight walks and struck out just seven times against Roansy Contreras (1-1) and three Pittsburgh relievers. A step forward for a team that entered the game having struck out 102 times, tied for most in the majors.
“We really cut down on the strikeouts,” Baker said. “We didn’t hit any out of the park, but we got a lot of singles and put a lot of balls in play. That was good to see.”
Maruicio Dubón singled three times to extend his hitting streak to a career-best six games as the reigning World Series champions sent the fast-starting Pirates to the second loss in their last seven games.
“I’m swinging at good pitches, putting myself in good spots where I can swing at good pitches,” Dubón said. “I’m not thinking of getting a hit. I’m just trying to hit the ball hard and if it gets caught, it gets caught. I can’t control anything but hitting the ball hard.”
Contreras never really got comfortable, allowing seven runs — tied for the most in his career — on nine hits with four walks in 3 1/3 innings.
“It didn’t look like (Contreras) was in his delivery very well,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “I mean he was battling it the whole game and because of it he scattered the ball and if you scatter the ball against this team and then you come back to the middle of the plate, there is going to be damage.”
Framber Valdez (1-1) kept the Pirates in check for seven innings, allowing two runs on three hits with five walks and five strikeouts as Houston won consecutive games for the second time this season.
“We had a good night offensively,” Valdez said. “Obviously, we have our highs and lows but we played together and had a good night and when we do this, this team is going to win.”
Ji Man Choi hit his first home run for Pittsburgh. Rodolfo Castro added an RBI single in his first start at shortstop while filling in for injured Oneil Cruz, who is out four months after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured left ankle suffered in a loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
Tucker, ejected late in a victory over Minnesota on Sunday for arguing a baserunner interference call, gave Houston the lead in the first with a sharp single to left. Alvarez laced a two-run single in the second and Tucker effectively chased Contreras with a two-run single to right in the fourth that made it 7-1.
That was more than enough for Valdez. He had little trouble with a Pittsburgh lineup being forced to adjust on the fly without Cruz, the 6-foot-7 leadoff hitter who is an integral part of a young foundation the Pirates are trying to build around.
Castro will get the first crack at replacing Cruz. He had an RBI single in the fourth and made a couple of routine plays but also committed an error when he couldn’t get the ball out of his glove on a grounder.
“(Castro) played fine,” Shelton said. “The error was just he lost the ball on the transfer. It was a routine ground ball hit right to him and he just dropped it on the transfer but other than that I think he did a nice job.”
Astros: Jose Altuve (fractured right thumb) rejoined his teammates on the road as he recovers from surgery after getting injured during the World Baseball Classic last month. Altuve, wearing a cast over his injured thumb, is out until at least late May.
The series continues on Tuesday when Houston’s Cristian Javier (1-0, 3.27 ERA) faces Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller (1-0, 3.86).