HOUSTON – Houston rookie Dallas Keuchel was trying to be more aggressive Thursday night.
That approach quickly backfired when Pittsburgh's Starling Marte homered on his first major league pitch to give the Pirates an early lead in a 5-3 win over the Astros.
"I figured he'd take a strike to see what I got; I never thought he would hit a homer on the first pitch of the game," Keuchel said.
Keuchel's approach played right into Marte's plan.
"I told some players in the dugout before the game that if he threw a fastball down the middle I was going to take a hack at it and that's exactly what I did," Marte said in Spanish through a translator.
A.J. Burnett (12-3) shut out the Astros for seven innings before Chris Johnson and Carlos Corporan connected for solo homers in the eighth to cut the lead to 5-2, bringing Brad Lincoln out of the bullpen with one out.
Johnson hit a two-out RBI single off Joel Hanrahan in the ninth, but Hanrahan struck out Brian Bogusevic for his 30th save.
"They gave us a chance until the end, and we had the tying run at the plate in the end," Johnson said. "We're going to keep battling back. Just because we get in a big deficit, we still have to try to get out."
Pirates fans couldn't wait for Marte, who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis, to reach the majors and he didn't disappoint, taking rookie Dallas Keuchel's first pitch for a leadoff home run to left-center. Marte was promoted to improve the Pirates' production in left field, where Alex Presley and Drew Sutton have previously manned the position.
Garrett Jones added a two-run homer later in the first inning, and former Astro Clint Barmes had a two-run shot in the second to extend Pittsburgh's lead to 5-0.
The loss extends Houston's skid to a season-worst 10 games and the Astros, who own the league's worst record, have dropped 23 of their last 25 games.
"It's hard coming in every day and getting beat; guys are getting (ticked) off a little bit, and they want to come out here and get a win," Johnson said. "Tomorrow we are going to have to come out here and do whatever we can to get a win. That is what it has to be."
Burnett allowed four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings to improve to 11-1 since a loss on May 2.
The 23-year-old Marte's second hit came on a single to left field in the fifth inning. He hit .286 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs in 98 games this season for Indianapolis.
He said before the game that when his minor league manager called him into the office Wednesday to inform him of his call-up, he tricked him by saying that he didn't run hard enough on a double that day and he wasn't going to play him in the next game. He then quickly ended the joke by telling him he'd be playing for the Pirates instead.
Marte, who stole 21 bases this season in the minors, was caught stealing to end the fifth inning.
Keuchel (1-3) settled down after the first two innings, allowing just one hit and walking one in his last four innings. He gave up five hits and five runs in six innings.
"There's no doubt he was able to right himself," Houston manager Brad Mills said of Keuchel. "We needed some innings out of our starter. Those five runs happened in a hurry. He was able to right himself and keep it right there until the end. Obviously, we would've liked to either not given those up or kept it right at one. At the same time, he did a good job of keeping it right there and making some adjustments as he was moving forward."
Burnett didn't allow a hit until Corporan singled to left field with one out in the third. He walked Johnson with one out in the fifth, but didn't allow another hit until Scott Moore singled with one out in the seventh.
Burnett still faced the minimum in that inning after J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play.
NOTES: The Astros announced Thursday night that RHP Armando Galarraga will be recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City to start on Saturday. .. LHP Wandy Rodriguez, who was traded to Pittsburgh from Houston on Tuesday, will start against his former team Saturday. The Pirates moved starter Kevin Correia to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for Rodriguez. ... Pirates OF Gorkys Hernandez was optioned to Indianapolis to make room on the roster for Marte. ... The teams continue the series on Friday when Pittsburgh's Jeff Karstens opposes Jordan Lyles.