Pirates stay hot as Charlie Morton shuts down Astros

PITTSBURGH -- The Charlie Morton that seemed at such a loss on the mound in 2010 has been replaced by a relaxed and confident right-hander this season.

A year after going 2-12, Morton is having fun.

It shows.

Morton took a shutout into the eighth inning, Lyle Overbay homered and the Pittsburgh Pirates won for the fourth time in six games, 6-1 over the Houston Astros on Saturday night.

Morton (4-1) worked 7 2/3 innings while allowing seven hits and one run to win consecutive starts for the first time in his career. Morton has already doubled his win total from last season.

"When my mechanics are right, I can throw all my pitches for strikes," Morton said. "Not just the sinker, but the curveball and the changeup and everything."

Morton left it to a warm ovation from the crowd of 32,299 -- PNC Park's largest since Opening Day.

That was quite the contrast from last season, a year after he was the centerpiece of a trade for popular outfielder Nate McLouth and started 0-5 with a 12.57 ERA over the season's first month. Pittsburgh was 2-15 in games he started last season.

"I sort of tipped my cap. I didn't know what to do," Morton said. "I'm not used to getting that kind of ovation from such a big crowd."

Overbay hit his second home run of the season during the second inning, when Pittsburgh scored all it needed off of Bud Norris. Andrew McCutchen added a two-run double later in the inning, one of his team-high two hits.

Norris (2-2) had a 14-inning scoreless streak snapped by the Pirates' second inning. He had nine strikeouts in seven innings for the last-place Astros, who have lost three of four.

"The way he's pitched his last [five] outings now, he's been really focused on getting through everything and his outings have been very good," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "It's sure nice to see the consistency, and he's doing a really great job."

Morton hadn't even won consecutive decisions until earlier this season. He was charged with a lone earned run for the fourth time in seven starts this year. Morton allowed seven hits and two walks -- three of those hits coming in the eighth, when Carlos Lee's two-out single drove in Michael Bourn.

The Astros had only two flyball outs against Morton.

"He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, got a lot of quick contact and an ocean full of groundballs," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a very good sinker, was repeating his delivery and was living in the strike zone. He mixed in his breaking ball to keep them honest and his four-seamer to change eye levels."

Bourn had two hits, and Hunter Pence extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the eighth.

Houston's Jason Bourgeois extended his hitting streak to seven games but left during the sixth after grabbing his lower left side in pain while running out of the batter's box on a fielder's choice. He sustained a strained left oblique.

Bourgeois was wrapped, sore and moving tentatively around the clubhouse after the game. Mills said that the team will see how he feels Sunday morning before placing him on the disabled list. That prospect is viewed to be serious enough that the team is bringing infielder Joe Inglett to Pittsburgh in case he is needed to take Bourgeois' spot on the roster.

Inglett was 5 for 24 in 17 games with the Astros this season before being designated for assignment on April 29.

Overbay led off the second by taking a 1-1 pitch from Norris deep into the elevated seats in right field. McCutchen's two-out double drove in Chris Snyder and Ronny Cedeno.

The three runs Norris gave up that inning matched the total he had allowed in his previous four starts combined.

"Had a good, quick first inning but rough second," Norris said. "And they put good swings on bad pitches."

The Pirates added three in the eighth off of Jose Valdez and Enerio Del Rosario, highlighted by Brandon Wood's two-run double.

Pittsburgh had scored only two eighth-inning runs in 32 previous games this season.

"We needed to stretch things out," Hurdle said. "We haven't been able to do that very often, but we were able to do that in the eighth inning."

Game notes
Pence committed Houston's first error in eight games during the third inning. ... Signed as a free agent in the offseason to add power to the lineup from the left side -- taking advantage of the short right-field porch at PNC Park -- Overbay's home run was his first at home this season. ... Wood has reached in eight of his first nine games with Pittsburgh.