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STL@HOU: Norris pitches six innings of one-run ball

After losing two of three games against the Marlins, the Astros are off to Pittsburgh, hoping to rebound against the Pirates in a three-game series at PNC Park.

Houston had an off-day Thursday as the Pirates finished up a three-game series against the Nationals with a 4-2 loss.

Houston will send Bud Norris to the mound Friday, and Pittsburgh counters with James McDonald. Norris is 2-1 with a 4.58 ERA this season, and is coming off an outing in which he threw six innings of three-hit ball against the Cardinals, allowing one unearned run.

"I've been pitching deep into ballgames," Norris said Wednesday. "I made a bigger stride last start getting through the sixth, and I know I really need to move that step and keep going forward."

Norris has struggled in his career against the Pirates. He's 3-4 with a 4.04 ERA in eight career starts, and has had trouble keeping the ball in the park. His seven home runs allowed to Pittsburgh are his second most against any team.

McDonald, who is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA this season, doesn't anticipate having any issues with the long ball, as the Astros are the only National League team he hasn't given up a homer to.

The 27-year-old right-hander hasn't allowed more than three runs in an outing this year, and hopes to carry the momentum from his last start against the Reds, where he threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits while striking out seven.

"I really look forward to seeing the continuing evolution of this young man," manager Clint Hurdle said after the start. "The growth he has exhibited in a year's time is significant enough for you to be excited about it when he takes the mound."

The Pirates have preached putting batters away with as few pitches as possible, but still capitalizing when strikeout chances arise. General manager Neal Huntington said no pitcher has better exemplified that than McDonald, who has averaged 10.7 strikeouts over his past three starts.

"That's been the fun of watching McDonald, he's taken both into account," Huntington said. "He tries to get as many quick outs as he can, but once he gets to two strikes, he's burying people."

Astros: Solid after a break
• The Astros are 2-1 this season coming off an off-day. They've scored 15 runs in those three games.

• Astros cleanup hitter Carlos Lee has had trouble against McDonald. He's 4-for-13 (.231) in his career with one double and no RBIs.

• Manager Brad Mills kept left fielder J.D. Martinez out of the lineup Wednesday night, and said he might sit out for a few more days.

"It's not a punishment," Mills said Wednesday. "I'm just going to give him a couple of days. This will get me a chance to get [Justin] Maxwell some at-bats, and [Travis] Buck's gotten a few at-bats.

Pirates: Bedard feeling better
Erik Bedard reported to the park feeling better Thursday than when back spasms had forced him early out of Wednesday's game, but it was too soon to speculate about the lefty being able to take his next scheduled turn, Monday in Miami.

But the staff will need a definitive read on Bedard's availability by Friday night. If he can't go, Brad Lincoln is the most likely replacement, since he picked up the first three innings after Bedard's ouster.

• Outfielder Jose Tabata has hit safely in 12 of his last 15 games, going 19-for-61 (.311) with five doubles, a homer and five RBIs. He is a lifetime 136-for-427 (.319) in PNC Park.

Worth Noting
• The Bucs won all three home series against the Astros last season, with the Pirates taking two out of three each time. Comments