HOUSTON -- Houston manager Cecil Cooper thought Felipe Paulino could develop into a good pitcher for the Astros.
But even he was a bit surprised at just how good the rookie right-hander was Saturday night.
Paulino pitched seven solid innings and the Astros used a five-run third to pull away from the Detroit Tigers for an 8-1 victory.
It was Houston's third straight win and gave the Astros the series victory in this interleague matchup which ends Sunday.
Paulino kept the Tigers off-balance with an array of pitches including a fastball that was routinely clocked at 97 mph. He struck out a career-high nine and allowed three hits and one run -- a homer to Ramon Santiago in the third inning.
"He was pretty dominant right from the start," Cooper said. "That's what we always thought that he could do, perhaps not nine punchouts and three hits, but a dominating performance. That was really oustanding."
The 25-year-old Paulino (2-4) came off the disabled list for the start. It's his first win as a starter after getting his other victory this season as a reliever.
"I tried not to think of anything negative," said Paulino, who hadn't played since injuring his groin June 7. "I just tried to understand that I'm fine, I'm healthy and I'm going to be aggressive. That's what I did. I came out aggressively and forget what happened two weeks ago."
Santiago was impressed with Paulino.
"He was consistently at 97, 96, the whole game," he said. "He threw a really sharp slider and he was really good with the fastball. He was really strong."
Detroit starter Alfredo Figaro (1-1), didn't fare as well in his second major league start as he did in his first. He allowed 10 hits and eight runs in six innings after winning his first start by striking out seven and giving up just two runs.
"Sometimes you are going to have a bad game, but they have all been telling me to keep my head up," he said. "There is nothing you can do about it. These things are going to happen."
Houston led 2-1 in the third before a double by Lance Berkman scored Jeff Keppinger and Miguel Tejada. Hunter Pence followed with an RBI double before Kaz Matsui hit a two-run homer that landed in the first row of the right-field stands.
Paulino didn't allow a hit until Santiago's homer with one out in the third inning that made it 2-1. He gave up a pair of singles with one out in the fourth before retiring his last eight batters.
With Santiago's homer, the Tigers have had at least one home run in 11 straight games, their longest streak since August of 2000.
Jeff Fulchino pitched a scoreless eighth and Wesley Wright did the same in the ninth for the Astros.
Carlos Lee had a run-scoring single in the first inning to put Houston ahead 1-0. Michael Bourn's RBI single in the second pushed Houston's lead to 2-0.
The Astros added a run in the sixth inning on groundout by Keppinger.
Detroit catcher Gerald Laird left in the first inning with lower back spasms after chasing a ball that bounced in the dirt and is listed as day-to-day.
"As soon as I went to grab the ball and I stood up to look, I don't know if I got up too quick, but I felt my back just lock up," Laird said.
Laird said he spent the rest of the game receiving treatment and felt much better.
Astros C Ivan Rodriguez was honored in a pregame ceremony, celebrating him becoming the career leader in games caught. Rodriguez reached the milestone of 2,227 games on June 17 in Arlington. Bob Boone, who was second on the list with 2,225 before Rodriguez passed both he and Carlton Fisk for the title, attended the ceremony. Tigers manager Jim Leyland thinks Rodriguez will reach another milestone before he retires: 3,000 hits. The 37-year-old Rodriguez has 2,658 hits and said reaching 3,000 is his goal. "I've been very blessed that I've been having a lot of awards and records and played this many games, but to be able to reach 3,000 hits as a catcher is tremendous because the position and all the hard work that you do and everybody does behind the plate," he said. ... Astros INF Geoff Blum, on the DL with a strained hamstring, will be activated for Sunday's game and INF Edwin Maysonet will be optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.