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Pirates waste Taillon's strong start in loss to Astros

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, 9:36 p.m.
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte reacts after being called out on strikes during the fourth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte reacts after being called out on strikes during the fourth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese reacts at second base after being tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese reacts at second base after being tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese is tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve at second base to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese is tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve at second base to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Root Sports reporter Robby Incmikoski talks with singer/songwriter Paul Simon during the Pirates game against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Root Sports reporter Robby Incmikoski talks with singer/songwriter Paul Simon during the Pirates game against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte watches a fans reach for a home run ball hit by the Astros' Teoscar Hernandez during the fifth inning Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte watches a fans reach for a home run ball hit by the Astros' Teoscar Hernandez during the fifth inning Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell takes a throw during the third inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell takes a throw during the third inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates reliever Neftali Feliz watches as the Astros' Alex Bregman rounds the bases after homering during the ninth inning Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Neftali Feliz watches as the Astros' Alex Bregman rounds the bases after homering during the ninth inning Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the third inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the third inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco doubles during the fourth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco doubles during the fourth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese hangs his head at second base after being tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese hangs his head at second base after being tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese singles during the ninth inning against the Atsros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese singles during the ninth inning against the Atsros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese leaves the field after being tagged out at second base to end the game against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese leaves the field after being tagged out at second base to end the game against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen strikes out during the ninth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen strikes out during the ninth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese looks up at second base umpire Tim Timmons after being tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese looks up at second base umpire Tim Timmons after being tagged out by the Astros' Jose Altuve to end the game Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
The Astros' Teoscar Hernandez celebrates his two-run homer with A.J. Reed during the fifth inning against the Pirates Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Astros' Teoscar Hernandez celebrates his two-run homer with A.J. Reed during the fifth inning against the Pirates Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the third inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the third inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell talks to pitcher Jameson Taillon don the mound during a game against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Josh Bell talks to pitcher Jameson Taillon don the mound during a game against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen strikes out during the ninth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen strikes out during the ninth inning against the Astros Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Astros pitcher Doug Fister delivers during the sixth inning against the Pirates Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Astros pitcher Doug Fister delivers during the sixth inning against the Pirates Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Pirates third baseman David Freese throws out the Astros' Carlos Correa during the ninth inning Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese throws out the Astros' Carlos Correa during the ninth inning Monday, Aug. 22, 2016 at PNC Park.

Time is beginning to run short for the Pirates to make a move in the National League wild-card race.

Despite a solid outing by right-hander Jameson Taillon, the Pirates on Monday did not put up much of a fight in a 3-1 setback against the Houston Astros.

With six weeks left in the regular season, this series is important to both teams' flickering hopes in their respective wild-card races.

Losers of four in a row, the Pirates trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 3 12 games for the final NL berth. The Astros need to leapfrog the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers to grab the last American League spot.

Right-hander Doug Fister blanked the Pirates on three hits over seven innings. He walked one and struck out six.

Over their past three games, the Pirates have a total of four runs and 14 hits.

“We have to be more consistent and keep fighting,” said right fielder Gregory Polanco, who doubled twice and scored an anticlimactic run in the ninth.

Polanco came home on an errant throw by third baseman Alex Bregman on David Freese's infield single. Freese was thrown out trying for second base, and the game ended with Josh Bell, who could have been the potential tying run, standing on deck.

“You can't be out there,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That probably was some emotional baserunning. We needed to get Bell the at-bat. The only way it works is if you're safe.”

The Pirates eyed Fister when he was a free agent last offseason, but he took a one-year, $7 million deal from the Astros.

It has turned out to be a great deal for Houston. Fister has produced a 12-8 record with a 3.59 ERA, and he ranks among the top 10 in the American League with 16 quality starts.

Since May 1, the Astros have won 15 of Fister's 21 starts.

Going into the game, Fister's .208 batting average against right-handed hitters was fourth best in the AL. The seven right-handers in the Pirates' lineup went a combined 1 for 18, the lone hit being Francisco Cervelli's one-out single in the fifth.

Taillon (3-3) worked eight innings, and gave up two runs and four hits. He racked up a career-best eight strikeouts.

Taillon's curveball was deadly early in the game, and he retired the first 10 batters he faced. Alex Bregman's flyout to deep right field for the second out of the fourth inning was the first ball the Astros got beyond the infield.

Jose Altuve followed with the game's first hit, a smash that ticked off third baseman Freese's glove and plopped down just beyond the reach of shortstop Jordy Mercer.

Polanco's two-out double in the fourth was the Pirates' first hit. Polanco went to third on an errant pickoff attempt but was stranded when Freese struck out.

Taillon faced only three, three-ball counts. Two of them came in the fifth, and the Astros took advantage.

A.J. Reed led off with a five-pitch walk. With a 3-1 count, Taillon tried to slip a two-seamer past Teoscar Hernandez. The ball wound up a few rows deep in the left-field bleachers.

“A leadoff walk is always bad,” Taillon said. “They score a lot. I fell behind the next guy, and he cranked a pitch out. You fall behind and make a mistake, they make you pay.”

The ball Hernandez smoked was the only ineffective two-seamer Taillon threw. He rarely threw the pitch this year at Triple-A Indianapolis, but it has evolved into his primary fastball.

“I was getting more swing and misses, more ground balls and better pitch efficiency when I throw the two-seam,” Taillon said. “Whereas, I don't get away with mistakes when I throw the four-seam. (The coaches) told me try it out, and I just ran with it.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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