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CIN@HOU: Harrell tosses seven frames of one-run ball

How do you prevent a franchise-record 12-game losing streak from reaching 13?

For starters, send a hot pitcher out onto the hill. That's what the Astros will do Sunday, when they'll throw Lucas Harrell at James McDonald and the Pirates in the finale of a four-game series at Minute Maid Park.

In his last six outings, Harrell has posted a 2.03 ERA. The righty has surrendered one run or fewer in five of his last six starts, including a complete-game shutout against San Diego on June 27.

Harrell's only hiccup over that stretch came against Pittsburgh, which tagged the right-hander for five runs in five innings on July 3. That was the game Houston lost via a walk-off homer by Drew Sutton.

But it came away from Minute Maid Park, where Harrell is 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA this season.

"He's got one of the more live fastballs that we've seen," said Drew Stubbs of the Reds, against whom Harrell earned a no-decision in his most recent start. "A lot of movement, a lot of run, a lot of sink. He's pretty much able to pitch off that one thing and mix in some breaking balls and changeups.

"He's one of those guys that'll bust it on your hands and then back door it. Just a lot of action on his fastball."

Harrell will need to have it all working on Sunday against the Pirates, who have won four games in a row and nine straight over the Astros. Including Saturday's 4-3 victory, Pittsburgh has 30 comeback wins this season, more than any other team in the National League.

In the first three games of this series, the Pirates have outscored the Astros, 15-11.

Although a jump-start was not necessarily needed, Pittsburgh received it in the form of recent call-up Starling Marte. On Thursday, the 23-year-old outfielder homered on his first big league pitch. He drove in the game-tying run a day later with a sacrifice fly.

"He's been a special player all the way up," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "A lot of people have had an opportunity to watch him. Now it's our turn."

Pirates: McDonald found positives after last outing
In his most recent outing, McDonald gave up five runs in six innings, losing to the Cubs at home. He issued three walks, one of which was intentional, and served up two home runs. The numbers might be mediocre, but both he and Hurdle had good things to say about the performance afterward.

"I had pretty decent command. They just hit the ball when they needed to," McDonald said. "This is a loss I can live with. I competed, went out there and gave everything I had. I had good stuff. They got me today."

Added Hurdle: "He was so much better across the board than his first two starts [of the second half]. Downhill plane to his fastball, consistent velocity, his breaking ball was better, his slider was better."

In three starts since the All-Star break, McDonald has posted an 8.62 ERA and allowed five home runs. On the season, he's been taken deep 12 times, half of them coming in July.

Astros: Pearce set to join club on Sunday
Houston recently claimed infielder Steve Pearce off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles. Pearce should be present at Minute Maid Park on Sunday, at which time the Astros will make a corresponding roster move.

Pearce batted .254 with four doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs in 28 games for Baltimore this season.

Pearce was drafted by the Pirates in the eighth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He spent the first five seasons of his Major League career in Pittsburgh.

Worth noting
The Pirates have gone 9-1 against the Astros this season. The two teams will play a three-game series at PNC Park from Sept. 3-5 and a three-game set at Minute Maid Park from Sept. 21-23.

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