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Jones drives in four runs in rout of Astros

PITTSBURGH -- You know the Pirates are rolling on offense when Garrett Jones picks up a hit against a left-handed pitcher.

It didn't matter that the run-scoring infield dribbler wasn't exactly punished. The symbolism is what counts, and against lefties, Jones -- who was hitless in his last 24 at-bats against southpaws prior to the hit -- will take anything he can get. Playing at first base Monday, Jones also doubled, homered and added another single in the Pirates' 11-2 win over the Astros at PNC Park, picking up four RBIs in the process.

"It wasn't the best hit, but it's still a hit," Jones said. "Once I hit it, I realized it was fair, and about halfway [down the line], I thought I might have a shot to beat it out. So sometimes it's better to be lucky than good in this game."

The hit was one of 18 for the Pirates on Monday. The last time they picked up that many hits at home was July 21, 2010, against the Brewers.

The Bucs' bats looked lost against Astros starter Jordan Lyles (2-5) early, though, before coming alive in the fourth inning. That's when Jones and Neil Walker hit back-to-back homers off the right-field foul pole to give the home team a 3-1 lead. Casey McGehee then stepped into the box and hit one that looked as if it might clear the right-field fence, but rapped off it for a double instead. He soon scored on a single by the next batter, Clint Barmes, making the score 4-1.

"Two balls off the pole, how many times does that happen?" manager Clint Hurdle said. "Three feet different, they're both foul balls. They both hit the pole. It works for us. The thing that was impressive was backing it up with [opposite-field] doubles, [opposite-gap] doubles, striking the ball to the big part of the park. That's what really worked out for us today."

The fourth-inning outburst came in support of starter James McDonald, who, with a chance to show baseball why he deserves a spot in the All-Star Game, went out against the Astros and struggled at the outset of the game.

McDonald was erratic from the very first batter, Jose Altuve, who drew a four-pitch walk. The free pass was one of four unintentional walks the righty issued on the evening. He also committed a throwing error in the fifth, but somehow McDonald was able to settle down before leaving the game having thrown seven innings and allowing just two runs.

"I was happy with the way I recovered," McDonald said. "I think that's a big difference between last year and this year. I would have let things start to spiral. I think, this year, I'm better at recovering and picking myself back up and getting back into it."

McDonald (8-3) surrendered runs in the first and sixth innings. His early run came when J.D. Martinez hit a flukey single over first base with a man on second. The latter run came when Scott Moore crushed a solo shot into the right-field seats.

Although that was it for the Astros, that's not to say they didn't have their chances to score more. Houston stranded seven runners against McDonald, who left the bases loaded in the first and fourth innings.

"It was very slow and methodical early," Hurdle said about his starter. "He wasn't sharp. He pitched himself into some tight situations. We were lucky to be only one run down going into our half of the fourth. The four-run inning really sparked him. It was starting to get better. From that point on ... the downhill angle, the finish to the fastball, breaking ball early and late ... the package came together."

Pittsburgh added to its lead in the fifth, which recent acquisition Drew Sutton led off with a triple to the notch in left-center, giving Pirates fans a reason to cheer during their first glimpse of him. Sutton scored on a double by Andrew McCutchen, who then scored on Jones' double. That prompted Houston manager Brad Mills to pull Lyles, who gave up seven earned runs over four-plus innings of work.

"He was aggressive early. He was coming after us," Hurdle said. "He's going to be a good, young pitcher."

But the Bucs weren't done after Lyles exited. Facing reliever Rhiner Cruz, McGehee hit his second double of the night, this one scoring Jones and Walker, who had walked in the previous at-bat. That gave the Pirates four runs in consecutive innings, and the rout was on.

After spending a day on the bench with a sprained left wrist, McCutchen returned to the lineup Monday and contributed to Pittsburgh's offense in a big way. The center fielder went 4-for-5 with a double, scoring two runs and knocking another one in.

"Give him time. Let his play show where he can go," Hurdle said of his All-Star center fielder. "But we're seeing a young man grow up right before our eyes, in a city that is very deserving. His reverence for the game and teammates is very special. We're all fortunate to be along for the ride, I feel."

The Pirates' ninth run scored as a result of the infield hit by Jones off lefty Fernando Abad in the sixth. It was the fourth consecutive single of the inning, but the Bucs left the bases juiced when the next batter, Walker, grounded into an inning-ending double play. The second baseman made up for it in the eighth, though, when he doubled in McCutchen and Jones.

McCutchen and Jones each had four hits, while McGehee added three more and made two impressive diving plays at third base. Alex Presley, Sutton and Walker all had two hits, and Barmes had one, as well.

"Our lineup is amazing right now," McDonald said. "It's like every guy is a tough out. Nobody is an easy out in our lineup right now. Everybody's swinging the bat. Everybody's on fire."

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