Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco, left, is congratulated by Josh Bell after hitting a solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
Fred Vuich
August 23, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ivan Nova has developed a pre-game ritual since coming to the Pittsburgh Pirates from the New York Yankees in a trade on Aug. 1.

The right-hander walks up to right fielder Gregory Polanco in the dugout just before the first pitch and asks him to hit a home run.

''He hit two for me today,'' Nova said with a smile.

Nova took a shutout into the ninth inning and finished with a six-hitter while Polanco hit two home runs to lead the Pirates to a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

Nova (10-6) struck out six, walked one and threw 69 of his 98 pitches for strikes while improving to 3-0 in four starts with the Pirates.

It was the fourth complete game of the right-hander's seven-year career with the others coming in 2013.

''He was very efficient with his pitches,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ''He threw a lot of really good sinkers against a very good-hitting team with a lot of right-handed hitters and he locked them up with the ball away.''

His bid for his third career shutout ended when Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve led off the ninth with consecutive doubles.

Pittsburgh snapped its four-game losing streak and stopped Houston's four-game winning streak. Both teams entered 3 1/2 games out of the second wild card in their respective leagues.

Nova is doing his best to keep the Pirates' hopes of a fourth consecutive postseason appearance alive after being traded for the first time in his career.

''You don't want to get traded,'' Nova said. ''This is not what I was looking for. Stuff like that happens, though. I'm happy to be here. It's a good group of guys who want to win and I'm trying to do the best I can to help them win.''

After the Pirates scored four runs in the first inning, Polanco hit solo shots in the third and fifth off Joe Musgrove and Tony Sipp to extend the lead to 6-0 and raise his season total to a team-high 19 homers.

It was Polanco's second two-home run game of his three-year career. The other was July 4 at St. Louis.

The right fielder hit a combined 19 homers in his first two seasons.

''I guess I'm getting stronger,'' Polanco said. ''My swing is getting better, shorter and quicker. Experience, too. The more swings you take, the better you get every day.''

The Pirates opened the first inning with six straight hits off Musgrove (1-2). Matt Joyce and Andrew McCutchen hit consecutive RBI doubles then Polanco and rookie Josh Bell drove in runs with singles.

Polanco had three of the Pirates' 11 hits while driving in three runs and scoring three times. Joyce and Bell added two hits each.

The Astros' Marwin Gonzalez had three hits.

Musgrove, a rookie making his fourth career start, was rocked for five runs and eight hits in four innings with two strikeouts and no walks. He has allowed a combined 13 runs in 9 1/3 innings while losing his last two starts.

''He's learning,'' Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. ''That's part of the nature of having young starters. He's got to learn to battle himself through his first back-to-back games of adversity. He has pitches to do it. He has a ton of competitiveness in him.''

TRAINER'S ROOM

Astros: 3B Luis Valbuena will undergo surgery in the next few days to repair a torn tendon in his right hamstring. Out since July 27, Valbuena finishes the season hitting .260 with 13 home runs in 90 games. ... OF Preston Tucker (strained right shoulder) will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday at Double-A Corpus Christi. ... 3B/OF Yulieski Gurriel (right hamstring tightness) did not start for a second straight game after making his major league debut Sunday but is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Astros: RHP Collin McHugh (7-10, 4.99 ERA) starts the finale of the three-game series Wednesday. He is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (7-8, 3.30) is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in his last three starts.

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