HOUSTON -- For 3 2/3 innings, Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf was unhittable, showing a strong command of his fastball as he slowly makes his way back from a right shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of the season.
When the right-hander was pulled from Monday's game after pitching five innings against Houston, the Pirates were up a run thanks to a three-run fourth inning that was highlighted by four straight extra-base hits.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, the bullpen faltered and the Pirates came away with a 7-4 loss at Minute Maid Park. Carlos Lee's three-run home run in the seventh inning off Jose Veras broke a 3-3 tie and contributed to giving Jason Grilli (1-1) the loss.
Ohlendorf, who got a no-decision, did not allow a baserunner until the fourth inning. Earlier in the inning, the Pirates got to Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez for the first time. Most of Pittsburgh's offensive output came in the fourth inning off the left-handed Rodriguez (10-9), who allowed only four hits in seven innings with 13 strikeouts.
"Offspeed, offspeed, offspeed -- that was it," said Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whose two-run home run to right field -- his 19th of the season -- staked the Pirates a 2-0 lead. "I think he threw one changeup. He threw fastball, curveballs. Basically that's all he did.
"He got ahead by us chasing his offspeed. A majority of our swing and misses were probably on balls."
Ohlendorf left the game with the Pirates ahead, 3-2. In five innings, Ohlendorf allowed five hits and two earned runs with six strikeouts and one walk.
"I was able to command my fastball on both sides of the plate for strikes," said Ohlendorf. "When I'm pitching my best, I'm pitching well on both sides. I felt I pitched well.
"I wish I would have pitched better out of the stretch in the fourth and fifth inning."
Ohlendorf remains winless on the road since Aug. 11, 2009, in Colorado.
Monday was Ohlendorf's first road start since pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings at Minute Maid Park on Aug. 13, 2010. He was 0-4 on the road in 2010.
In Ohlendorf's previous start last Tuesday, he allowed seven runs -- four earned -- on 11 hits in five innings in an 11-4 loss to Milwaukee. On Monday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle saw improvement from Ohlendorf, who had 50 strikes among his 72 pitches.
"I saw incremental improvement," said Hurdle. "There were more strikes thrown, more attempts at working the ball in. The slider improved. We have to get the ball down with more consistency."
Four straight extra-base hits in the fourth inning resulted in a 3-0 Pittsburgh lead.
Josh Harrison got the first hit off Rodriguez with a leadoff double, and McCutchen followed with his homer that was just out of the grasp of right fielder Brian Bogusevic. What followed were doubles from Neil Walker and Ryan Doumit, which made it 3-0.
"Oh my God," Rodriguez said. "In the fourth, my problem is I stayed behind in the count. I tried to throw the fastball for a strike, and I got behind in the count and they can wait for a fastball. When I throw something close to home plate, they hit the ball every time."
Pittsburgh managed only five hits, with four coming in the fourth inning.
The Pirates' relievers weren't as effective as Rodriguez. Grilli allowed two earned runs in 1 1/3 innings with three hits and a walk, and Veras, who blew his seventh save, allowed two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Rodriguez relied on his curveball to stymie the Pirates.
"[Rodriguez is] going to pitch away with his fastball, he's going to spend the breaking ball and you have to try to find a way to take some of those breaking balls," said Hurdle. "We swung at a lot of breaking balls out of the zone. He's a good pitcher."
The Pirates are 4-9 in their last 13 games and on Monday lost at a site they've played well at this year. Prior to Monday, Pittsburgh was 5-1 at Minute Maid Park.
Ohlendorf retired the side in order the first three innings and did not allow a baserunner until J.D. Martinez singled to left. Martinez came around to score two batters later on Bogusevic's double to left.
The closest the Astros got to a hit in the first three innings off Ohlendorf was in the second. With one out, Bogusevic hit a towering drive to left-center that McCutchen caught up against the wall near the 404-foot sign.
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.