Tonight the Pirates return after a 10-game road trip to open up a 11-game homestand with four games against the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates are 7-5 against the Cubs this season, and will play three more games in Chicago before the season series is over. With three wins at home this weekend, the Pirates (84-61) would ensure themselves the advantage in the season slate between the two teams.
The Cubs enter PNC Park on a relative high note, after taking two-of-three in Cincinnati earlier this week. In addition, Chicago has split its past six games against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jeff Locke starts for the Pirates, and looks for his first win since July. (Photo Credit: David Hague)
“They showed how competitive they were in Cincinnati. There’s a lot of pride tied to this game when you’re at this level,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They’re gonna go out there and play and that’s why we continue to just talk about meeting the demands of the game – not so much about who you’re playing.”
But the Pirates come back to Pittsburgh riding even higher after a sweep of the Texas Rangers this week on the Rangers’ home field. The sweep kept the Pirates just one game back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central standings, despite suffering a sweep to the Cards at Busch Stadium last week.
For the Pirates tonight, Jeff Locke (9-5, 3.23 ERA) makes his first start at PNC Park since his recall from Double-A Altoona last week. Locke made a start on the road against St. Louis, but lasted just five innings in which the Cardinals rung his bell for three runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks en route to taking yet another loss. Locke has lost his last three decisions, and has not won a game since he held the Cincinnati Reds to one run in six innings on July 21.
“We need a good start from Locke,” Hurdle said. “We need to piece it together out of the bullpen if we have to go that route.”
Following the starts from Locke tonight, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole, and Francisco Liriano are slated to pitch the other three games against the Cubs.
Opposite Locke’s left arm, the Pirates face southpaw Chris Rusin (2-3, 3.89). Rusin makes his 11th start of the season tonight, and comes off a no decision against the Milwaukee Brewers last Wednesday. Rusin didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, and allowed two runs on seven hits and walked two while throwing 85 pitches.
Like Locke, Rusin hasn’t notched a victory in a lengthy span of time. Rusin’s last win came over a month ago against the St. Louis Cardinals when he pitched six scoreless innings.
Against a left-hander, the Pirates will have an opportunity to show off the versatility of their lineup once again after rosters expanded at the beginning of the month. Not to mention the acquisitions of Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau.
The Pirates have hit left-handers at just a .266 clip this season, which is higher than their .247 mark against right-handers, but hold a record of just 15-12 against left-handed starters.
“It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what we gotta do on the field,” Hurdle said. “What were doing is I think we’re getting better, we’re getting more traction against left-handed pitching.”
Tonight, left-handed first baseman Morneau will get a start despite an OPS in the .600s against left-handed pitching. Hurdle believes the first baseman is gaining traction himself, following a 4-for-5 day that included two singles of left-handed reliever Joe Ortiz.
“He can hit a left-hander, he’s done it his entire career. He showed it yesterday,” Hurdle said. “Coming off that game I wanted to back him up with another game. We’re gonna have another challenging left-hander.”
The four-hit day also followed a stretch that saw Morneau pick up nearly as many hits (6) as he compiled in his first 27 at-bats as a Pirate. Hurdle believes Morneau is starting to settle in as a member of the Pirates as there is less pressure on him than in Minnesota or maybe what he believed there was entering the situation.
“We won a lot of game without Justin,” Hurdle said. “I think Justin’s getting to a better comfort level knowing he doesn’t have to come in here and carry us across the finish line.”
Josh Harrison 2B
Jordy Mercer SS
Andrew McCutchen CF
Justin Morneau 1B
Marlon Byrd RF
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Russell Martin C
Jose Tabata LF
Jeff Locke P
Starlin Castro SS
Darwin Barney 2B
Anthony Rizzo 1B
Donnie Murphy 3B
Junior Lake LF
Welington Castillo C
Darnell McDonald RF
Ryan Sweeney CF
Scott Rusin P