Karstens goes for Bucs in Houston

Jeff Karstens aims for his fourth straight win tonight, when the Pittsburgh Pirates visit Minute Maid Park for the second of four games with the host Houston Astros.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Karstens was 0-1 with a 4.50 earned run average through his initial three starts of 2012 before shoulder and hip injuries sent him to the disabled list and shelved him for more than two months.

He's made five starts since returning and is 3-0 in the last four while trimming the ERA down to a respectable 3.52.

In his last outing, on July 22 against Miami, he tossed seven shutout innings in the Pirates' 3-0 win while walking two and striking out three.

Karstens performed similarly in his last matchup with the Astros on July 5, this time going eight scoreless innings with four hits allowed and eight strikeouts in a 2-0 triumph.

In nine career meetings with Houston, he's 5-2 with a stingy 2.83 ERA.

In Thursday's opener, A.J. Burnett pitched into the eighth inning and Starling Marte homered in his first major-league at-bat, helping Pittsburgh to a 5-3 win.

Burnett (12-3) served up two solo homers among four hits while fanning five over 7 1/3 innings. Joel Hanrahan survived a shaky final frame to earn his 30th save.

"The guys came out swinging," Burnett said. "It's always good to have that. It takes a little pressure off you."

Clint Barmes and Garrett Jones each added a two-run shot for the Pirates, who have won seven of nine.

Recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to the game, Marte finished 2-for-4 in his big-league debut.

He became just the third Pirate to homer in his first plate appearance. Walter Mueller did it first on May 7, 1922 and Don Leppert was the last, on June 18, 1961.

Chris Johnson homered and drove in two for the Astros, who dropped their 10th straight.

Dallas Keuchel (1-3) was dented for five runs and five hits over six full frames in defeat.

Houston sends righty Jordan Lyles to the mound in search of his first victory in a month.

The 21-year-old won his second game of 2012 in June 26 against San Diego after allowing a run on six hits in 6 1/3 innings.

He's 0-3 in four starts since - including an 11-2 loss at Pittsburgh on July 2 in which he was touched for seven runs on nine hits in four innings.

Lyles, who won twice in 10 decisions while appearing in 20 games for the Astros last season, is 0-2 against the Pirates with a 9.31 ERA.

The Pirates lost the first 2012 meeting between the teams on May 11, but have since won six straight - all in Pittsburgh. They won five of nine games in Houston last year while taking the season series, 11-7.

The Astros last won the season series in 2010.