PITTSBURGH (AP) Corey Julks grew up in the Houston suburbs and played collegiately for the hometown Cougars.
No wonder the Astros rookie outfielder looks so comfortable in blue and orange.
Julks hit his first big league home run, a shot to the bleachers in left field off Rich Hill, and Houston rode the pitching of José Urquidy to a 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old Julks had to wait out a lengthy delay before heading to the plate in the bottom of the fourth due to an umpire switch at home plate after Jerry Layne took a foul ball off a hand.
Julks bided his time during the 20-minute stoppage while Brock Ballou moved from first to home, then drilled an 82 mph cutter from Hill before rounding the bases with a smile.
“It was nice to get that one out of the way,” said Julks, who received the lineup card from manager Dusty Baker after the game. "Just (got to) keep them coming.”
Julks, Chas McCormick and José Abreu had two hits each for Houston.
Alex Bregman homered for the second straight game, a three-run shot in the seventh that gave the Astros plenty of breathing room as Houston bounced back from a walk-off loss to the Pirates on Tuesday by putting a dent in Pittsburgh’s fast start.
“We needed a win,” said Bregman after his average ticked up to .196. “We needed to win a series. We haven’t been playing our best baseball but today was a step in the right direction.”
It helped that Urquidy was sharp. Even with his slider not working particularly well, Urquidy (1-0) allowed singles by Carlos Santana and Jack Suwinski and that was about it. Urquidy struck out two and walked three and benefitted from a handful of nice grabs on sinking line drives by the Pirates.
Hill (0-2) worked six efficient innings but received little support from his teammates. Signed to a an $8 million, one-year deal in the offseason to provide a young pitching staff with a veteran presence, the 43-year-old Hill struggled during his last start. Unable to get his breaking stuff that can dip below 70 mph, Chicago teed off for seven runs in just four innings of work.
The 43-year-old took a step forward against the Astros, keeping Houston off balance and relying on his defense to get by.
“Obviously that’s a tough lineup 1-9,” Hill said. “Coming out of it with a quality start and making pitches the entire game. We played them tough the first six innings. Their bats broke out the later part of the game.”
Pittsburgh lost for the second time in three games after shortstop Oneil Cruz was lost for at least four months with a fractured left ankle.
Ji Hwan Bae, who ended Tuesday night's game with a three-run homer to right field in the ninth, walked twice in four at-bats while playing shortstop and taking over Cruz's spot atop the lineup.
The Astros have been off to a somewhat sleepy start while missing second baseman Jose Altuve, who remains out with a right thumb injury. Bregman began the season 0 for 18 but is showing signs of getting his timing back.
A day after collecting two hits, including his first home run of the season, Bregman backed it up with a long drive off Pittsburgh reliever Dauri Moreta for his second homer in less than 24 hours.
The Pirates (7-5) are off to their best start since 2018 but were given a first-hand look at the gap the Astros have created between themselves and the rest of the league over the last few years.
“They’re good, they’re really good,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. "They defend, they hit. They’re deep. I mean one of the best players in baseball didn’t play today in the lineup in (Yordan) Alvarez and their starting pitching is legit. Again, that’s why you win World Series.”
Pirates RHP JT Brubaker had Tommy John surgery Wednesday with Texas Rangers head physician Dr. Keith Meister to reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament. Brubaker's projected return to major league competition is 14-16 months, Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said.
Astros: Return home to take on in-state rival Texas in a three-game set starting Friday. Luis Garcia goes for Houston (0-1, 7.00 ERA) vs. Martín Pérez (1-1, 2.53)
Pirates: Head to St. Louis to start a four-game series with the Cardinals on Thursday. Vince Velasquez (0-2, 9.82) starts against Jordan Montgomery (2-0, 2.25).
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