Mets-Pirates Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated July 11, 2013
The Pittsburgh Pirates' offense finally got in gear to back up another brilliant starting pitching performance. Getting anything going against Jeremy Hefner could prove to be far more difficult. The Pirates will try to win back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two weeks Friday night against a resurgent New York Mets team going for its first five-game road winning streak in nearly two years. Limited to six runs while losing four straight - and the NL Central lead to St. Louis - Pittsburgh (54-36) pounded out 12 hits in Wednesday's 5-0 victory over AL West-leading Oakland. The Pirates' 5-for-9 effort with runners in scoring position was a welcome change - the team is batting just .232 in those situations - but Francisco Liriano continued what's been a dominant run of Pittsburgh starts with seven strong innings. The Pirates, owners of the majors' best ERA at 3.09, have had just one starter in the last 25 games give up more than three runs. That happened the last time Charlie Morton (1-2, 3.38 ERA) took the ball. Making his fifth start since coming off the DL following right elbow surgery, the right-hander made it through six innings for the first time but surrendered a pair of two-run homers in Saturday's 4-1 road loss to the Cubs. "What I need to do and what I do well usually is keep the ball in the park and I didn't do that,'' said Morton, who hadn't allowed a homer in his first four starts. Morton, 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA in two home starts against New York, will face a Mets team that's eyeing a season high-tying fifth consecutive victory after finishing off a three-game sweep with Wednesday's 7-2 win at San Francisco. Marlon Byrd homered for the second straight game, Daniel Murphy and John Buck each drove in a pair while All-Star third baseman David Wright extended his hitting streak to 11 games. The Mets (40-48) are averaging 6.8 runs while winning five of six on their trip. Their last five-game road winning streak was July 25-29, 2011. Hefner (4-6, 3.39) could help New York equal that run considering the way he's been dealing. After going 0-5 with a 4.50 ERA in his first seven starts, Hefner has a major league-best 1.64 ERA since June 4. He's yielded one earned run in six of seven starts during that stretch. "We made a mechanical adjustment a couple months ago, toward the end of May," Hefner told the Mets' official website after striking out a career high-tying eight and throwing seven innings of one-run ball in Sunday's 2-1 win over Milwaukee. "I have a little more deceptiveness, and the velocity's gone up a little bit. Playing great defense and we're scoring runs." Hefner didn't need much support in his only previous outing against Pittsburgh, going seven innings in a 6-0 home win Sept. 26. The Mets were outscored 21-7 by the visiting Pirates while losing the last three of a four-game series in May. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, 6 for 11 with a homer and four RBIs in those contests, is batting .343 with three home runs and seven RBIs as Pittsburgh has dropped six of nine since ending June on a nine-game winning streak. Alvarez, among the NL home run leaders with 23, was left off the Home Run Derby roster by Wright, the league's captain. Fellow All-Star Andrew McCutchen, who's batting .406 this month, drove in half of the Pirates' eight runs as they dropped two of three in the Mets' last visit May 21-23, 2012.
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