With pitcher Paul Maholm in the No. 8 spot, Akinori Iwamura hit leadoff, McCutchen was in the No. 2 spot and shortstop Bobby Crosby batted ninth.
The only change Russell might make would be putting Ronny Cedeno, scratched because of lower back pain, in the lineup instead of Crosby.
Iwamura hit a three-run homer and McCutchen, Brandon Jones and Andy LaRoche had two-run shots.
"It sets us up to score more runs," Russell said. "It really seems to make a lot of sense, a way to get more guys in scoring position in front of Aki, Andrew, (Garrett) Jones and (Ryan) Doumit. It creates good balance in the lineup."
The Pirates got 15 hits against the Astros, matching their highest output this spring. Maholm tossed five innings and allowed one run and six hits.
"I had a little talk with the guys before the game to tell them I'd better not have to break up any no-hitters," Maholm said with a laugh. "Those guys are going to be fine. Today, they were relaxed and having fun."
Astros left-hander Gustavo Chacin gave up seven runs, five of them earned, in two-plus innings.
"That wind blows to the outside part of the field here and everything in the air is going to be homers," Chacin said. "I battled and tried to mix everything. I think made very good pitches down the strike zone and they made good swings and put the ball in play."
Chacin has a 12.96 ERA in five outings, including one start "If they send me down, I'll go do down and see if something else offers me something, you know what I mean?" Chacin said. "My ERA is very high, but I pitched good games. I got a couple of errors, routine plays we don't make. I feel good because I'm healthy and my arm is in pretty good shape."
Iwamura led off the first inning with a single. McCutchen followed with a wind-blown homer to right-center field.
With two outs in the second, first baseman Chris Shelton dropped McCutchen's popup in foul territory for an error. McCutchen tripled and scored on Jones' homer.
As a rookie last season, McCutchen batted leadoff in all 108 games in which he played. He hit .286 with 12 homers and 54 RBIs.
"It's really not that big of a difference (batting second)," McCutchen said. "I'm not going to change my approach or anything. I believe it's a good plan for us."
Jeff Clement went 3 for 4 with two RBIs for the Pirates. The former catcher solidified his grip on the starting job at first base.
NOTES: Astros RHP Roy Oswalt (left hamstring tightness) was examined in Houston by Dr. Michael McCann. Oswalt received an injection in his back and will make his scheduled start Wednesday. Oswalt is expected to start as planned on opening day. ... The Pirates claimed RHP Hayden Penn off waivers from the Florida Marlins. To clear space on the 40-man roster, OF Brandon Moss was designated for assignment. The Pirates have 10 days to trade, release or waive him. Moss, a former Red Sox prospect acquired in the Jason Bay trade in July 2008, hit .081 this spring. He hit .232 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs in 178 games with Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Penn was 1-0 with a 7.77 ERA in 16 games with Florida last season and is 4-6 in 30 games with the Orioles and Marlins. ... Cedeno is expected to return to action Tuesday.