MLB Insiders - Houston Astros

The Pirates open a three-game series in Houston on Monday night. Right-hander Virgil Vasquez will be on the mound for the Bucs. The Astros will toss lefty Mike Hampton.

The Houston Astros have won only four of Mike Hampton's 13 starts this year. Three of the victories have come against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team he's utterly dominated throughout his career.

Hampton tries to win his 10th straight start versus the Pirates when the Astros open a three-game series Monday night at Minute Maid Park.

In his first season with Houston (39-41) since 1999, Hampton (4-5, 4.44 ERA) has continued to overpower Pittsburgh in a run that began the year after he left the Astros. He has posted a 1.34 ERA in nine straight wins over the Pirates, and his 13-3 mark against them gives him his best winning percentage versus any opponent.

The veteran left-hander has been even better in his three starts against Pittsburgh this year, posting a 0.90 ERA with 16 strikeouts and two walks over 20 innings. His latest victory over the Pirates was a 9-1 win June 5 in which he yielded one run in seven innings.

Virgil Vasquez (1-1, 3.75) will get the ball for Pittsburgh in his third start of the year. He gave up three runs over six innings Wednesday and suffered his first loss, 4-1 to the Chicago Cubs.

The right-hander had not pitched in the majors since 2007 for Detroit before his Pittsburgh debut June 26 against Kansas City. Vasquez yielded two runs over six innings to earn a 5-3 victory - his first in the big leagues.

Don't look now, but Astros ace Roy Oswalt has started his annual late-season surge.

He had his second brilliant start in a row, holding the San Francisco Giants to one run over eight innings on Sunday to improve to 5-4 with a 3.81 ERA.

The 5-4 mark puts Oswalt over .500 for the first time this season, which is easily the longest into a season the veteran right-hander has waited to go over .500 since he reached the majors in 2001.

"It's just like hitting," said Oswalt, who has allowed only three earned runs through 23 innings over his last three starts. "Guys go through slumps where they feel like they're doing everything right, and sometimes they still can't hit anything."

ASTROS 7, GIANTS 1: RHP Roy Oswalt, who had thrown complete games in two of his previous three starts, went eight innings on Sunday while holding the San Francisco Giants to one run on three hits. Oswalt's performance was needed to help the Astros, shut out in the first two games of the series, avoid a sweep in San Francisco.

NOTES, QUOTES

--1B Lance Berkman had reached base 25 times in his last 43 plate appearances, including 1-for-5 on Sunday.

"I feel like everything has kind of slowed down," Berkman said. "I'm seeing the ball. I don't have a whole lot of body movement. I'm not jumping at the ball. I'm letting it come to me. I feel good."

In his last 10 games, Berkman lifted his batting average from .251 to .269.

--Just as it appeared the Astros were getting back on track, getting within a game of .500 for the first time since they were 1-2, they gave up 22 runs over their first two games, all losses in routs, against the San Francisco Giants Friday and Saturday.

The Astros suffered consecutive shutouts Friday and Saturday against the San Francisco Giants before avoiding the three-game sweep on Sunday with a 7-1 victory.

BY THE NUMBERS: 22 -- The Astros gave up 22 runs over their first two games against the San Francisco Giants.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "Just a great outing by Roy (Oswalt). Hopefully, this is something we'll see a lot of the second half. If it is, then we're going to jump on his back and ride." -- Cecil Cooper on Sunday after Oswalt held the Giants to one run over eight innings.

ROSTER REPORT

--RHP Kenny Baugh, a former star at Rice University, has signed a minor league contract with the Astros. Baugh, another in a long line of injury-plagued pitchers who were drafted out of Rice, will start for Class AA Corpus Christi on Monday.

MEDICAL WATCH:

RHP Doug Brocail (torn left hamstring) went on the 15-day disabled list May 4. He had yet to resume baseball activities in early June.

INF Aaron Boone (open-heart surgery on March 26) went on the 15-day disabled list March 27, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on April 10. He was cleared to begin workouts in late June, but it remains uncertain when he might be able to resume his career.


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