(Sports Network) - Pittsburgh right-hander Jeff Karstens can get his team to .500 and end a personal drought tonight when the Pirates visit Minute Maid Park to begin a three-game series with the Houston Astros.
The Pirates climbed within a game of the break even mark on Monday, when Neil Walker had two runs batted in to help back seven shutout innings from Paul Maholm in a 3-1 defeat of the New York Mets at PNC Park.
Brandon Wood added a solo homer for Pittsburgh, which earned a split of the four-game series.
Maholm (3-7) was sensational, scattering three hits and a pair of walks while striking out four. Joel Hanrahan worked a perfect ninth inning to record his 17th save of the season.
The Pirates have stayed in contention in a jumbled National League Central Division and sit just five games behind co-leaders Milwaukee and St. Louis through 65 games.
They are 1 1/2 games behind the third-place Cincinnati Reds.
Karstens, a 28-year-old from San Diego, was 3-2 on the season after a 10-1 interleague defeat of Detroit on May 20, but is 0-2 with two no-decisions in four subsequent starts.
He's allowed no more than three runs in any of the four outings and has been stellar in the last two, combining to allow just eight hits and one run in 14 innings while Pittsburgh beat Philadelphia, 2-1, and lost, 2-0, to Arizona.
The Pirates are 7-7 in his 14 appearances.
Karstens is 1-2 lifetime against Houston.
The Astros go with 26-year-old righty Bud Norris, who's won his last two starts after a three-decision losing skid.
Another California native, Norris was 2-4 on the year after dropping an 11-3 verdict to Arizona on May 28.
He's leveled the mark at 4-4 with subsequent defeats of San Diego and St. Louis, combining to give up seven hits and five runs in 14 innings with eight strikeouts.
He lost a 6-1 decision at Pittsburgh after going seven innings on May 7 and is 2-3 lifetime against the Pirates in five starts.
On Monday in Houston, Hunter Pence brought life to a listless Astros lineup, going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI as Houston avoided a sweep by the Braves behind an 8-3 victory in the finale of a four-game series.
Pence, fresh from sitting out on Sunday due to tightness in his back, extended his career-best hitting streak to 23 games while contributing to the Astros' 14-hit attack.
Brett Wallace reached base four times on two doubles and two walks while scoring twice and knocking in a run for Houston, which won for just the second time in 10 games.
Wandy Rodriguez (4-3) halted Atlanta's winning streak at six with six shutout innings in his return from the disabled list.
Pittsburgh took two of three from the Astros earlier in the year.