Oliver Perez will try to stretch his winning streak to four games and help the surging Pittsburgh Pirates reach .500 for the first time in more than a year when they continue their interleague series with the hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Perez is beginning to resemble the pitcher who went 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA in 30 starts last year. The 23-year-old left-hander threw seven strong innings Monday, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out seven in a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
“I would probably say this was his best outing to date,” Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He had everything going … and a good mound presence.”
Since missing an outing with shoulder soreness, Perez is 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 23 1-3 innings in his last four starts. Perez was 1-4 with an 8.03 ERA in his first seven starts of the season.
The Pirates have mirrored their ace’s success, winning eight of 11 on their season-high 13-game homestand to move within one game of .500. Pittsburgh hasn’t been at the break-even mark since being 23-23 on May 30, 2004.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Perez said. “We have to keep working to do the same. We have a good team. We have a young team, but we compete with the best teams in baseball.”
“We’re not getting cocky or overconfident,” shortstop Jack Wilson said. “We know there is a long season ahead of us. We’re playing well and that’s the bottom line. But we’re not making a big deal out of it. It shows that when we play our game, we can compete.”
With a win in one of the next two days, Pittsburgh will have a fifth straight series victory at PNC. That could be a lock against Tampa Bay, which has lost six games in a row on the road and 11 of its last 12 overall.
The Devil Rays are 0-7 this season in interleague play, the only AL team without a win, after going a major league-best 15-3 last year. They also own the majors’ worst road record at 4-27.