Posted July 04, 2012 on AP on Fox
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Carlos Lee's locker sat empty in the middle of a quiet clubhouse shortly after Houston's 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday. After more than five seasons, the burly first baseman is on his way to the Miami Marlins in exchange for minor leaguers Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen. Neither player is ready for the majors. Too bad. The struggling club could certainly use reinforcements. Lee was removed abruptly in the seventh inning of a one-run game after the trade was completed. The Astros collapsed moments later, dropping their seventh straight. Manager Brad Mills pulled center fielder Jordan Schafer in the third inning following a fielding miscue that helped the Pirates quickly erase a two-run deficit. ''I just felt that (Schafer's) play and behavior didn't match what we needed to get done,'' Mills said. Lee isn't the only Astros player apparently on the move. Though he has been one of the few bright spots of late, starter Dallas Keuchel (1-1) will be shipped to Triple-A Oklahoma City so the team can bring up a reliever to help out a weary bullpen. Mills stressed the decision has nothing to do with performance. Keuchel gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings, or one more run than he surrendered in his previous three starts combined. ''I knew if I got the first three guys out consistently I would have a good shot and I made some bad pitches to the bottom of the order and they made me pay,'' Keuchel said after his ERA rose from 1.35 to 2.45. J.D. Martinez hit his 10th homer for Houston, while Scott Moore and Brian Bogusevic each had two hits, though it couldn't stop Houston from continuing its slide. The Astros are 10-26 since moving within a game of .500 on May 25. ''Right now it just feels like we have a little too much pressure right now,'' Martinez said. ''We've got to break out of this.'' They'll have to do it without Lee, who hit .287 with five homers and 29 RBI in 65 games this season. The 36-year-old is in the final year of a contract that pays him about $9 million. The Astros, in their last season in the NL Central before moving to the American League in 2013, are rebuilding. It's a spot the Pirates have seemingly been in for nearly two decades. The pieces, however, appear to be in place for a run at a winning record and maybe even the postseason for the first time since 1992. Pittsburgh has won seven of eight to improve to 45-36 at the season's midway point, looking very much like a team that could stick around through the summer. Mike McKenry and Garrett Jones knocked in two runs each for the Pirates. ''This stretch that we've had is awesome but I think this is very indicative of this ballclub,'' second baseman Neil Walker said. ''We knew the bats were going to start coming around, and when we did we knew we were going to score a lot of runs.'' Kevin Correia (5-6) will happily take the help. The 31-year-old pitched well early in the season but struggled to win as the offense limped out of the gate. Correia wasn't terribly sharp at muggy PNC Park but overcame a shaky start to give up three runs on six hits in six innings, walking two and striking out one to win at home against a National League team for the first time since joining the Pirates before the 2011 season. Andrew McCutchen went 1 for 3 to keep his NL-leading batting average at .360 while Alvarez continued to show signs that he's developing into the elite slugger the franchise envisioned when it selected him with the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. Alvarez had a two-run pinch-hit single during the comeback victory on Tuesday and his two-run single in the seventh gave the Pirates a cushion after the Astros pulled within 4-3. ''You're seeing a guy finding his rhythm and his confidence,'' Hurdle said of Alvarez. ''To do that on a breaking ball from a left-hander, it was a very pretty swing.'' NOTES: The series concludes on Thursday as Pittsburgh's Jeff Karstens (1-2, 5.25 ERA) faces Houston's Bud Norris (5-5, 4.90) ... The Astros haven't won on July 4 since beating the Cubs in 2006 ... Pittsburgh reliever Jason Grilli tossed a scoreless eighth inning while making his 300th major league appearance.
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