Three runs. That's been the magic number for Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton.
The right-hander gets the ball tonight for the Pirates in the middle test of a three-game series against the Houston Astros at PNC Park. Morton, who has lost his last two decisions, is an amazing 10-1 since the beginning of last year when he receives at least three runs of support in a game.
Morton, who began the season on the disabled list recovering from left hip surgery, has given up nine earned runs over his last two outings, covering a total of 10 1/3 innings in losses to Cincinnati and St. Louis.
Over his career, Morton has struggled to a 2-5 mark with a 6.59 ERA in eight starts against the Astros.
The Astros, who secured a 1-0 win last night, will counter with J.A. Happ on the hill. The lefty is coming off an 8-1 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. He's 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA in eight lifetime games vs. Pittsburgh. Happ will try for his first career win at PNC Park. Despite a 3.24 ERA in four games at the stadium, his club is 0-4 in those starts.
Last night, Bud Norris spun six scoreless innings of three-hit ball for the Astros. Norris (3-1) struck out eight without walking a batter, Brett Myers threw a perfect ninth for his ninth save of the season and Chris Johnson finished with two of Houston's four hits to give the Astros their seventh win in 10 games.
The game's only run came in the second inning when Brian Bogusevic scored on Justin Maxwell's ground ball double play.
"Both teams played well," Norris said. "It's tough, even on both sides, to say one wins, one loses."
James McDonald (2-2) was stellar in the setback, tossing eight innings of one- run ball on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts. Rod Barajas tallied two base hits for the Pirates, who dropped their second straight contest.
"When the game gets hard, it looks more difficult to play than it is," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle about his team's inability to knock in a run. "No one is beating themselves up more than those guys in there. We've got to find a way to continue to push through it."
The Pirates went 6-3 against Houston at PNC Park last year, winning all three series, and have gone 10-6 since 2010, winning each of the last five series played in the Steel City.