Looking for its longest April winning streak in five years, Pittsburgh faces a Cincinnati team trying to avoid another season-high three-game slide in the opener of a three-game series Friday.
The Pirates are trying to win five consecutive games in the opening month of the season for the first time since taking six in a row from April 15-21, 2002. A five-game run would also equal the club’s longest winning streak of 2006, which it achieved twice.
Pittsburgh defeated Houston 5-3 on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep— its second three-game sweep of the season, both coming against the Astros.
“It was good to get the sweep, that’s for sure,” said manager Jim Tracy, whose Pirates are 10-10 after opening 5-15 last year. “There has been some dramatic improvement, and I know there’s more to come.”
On Friday, the Pirates will turn to Ian Snell (1-1, 2.00 ERA) to keep their roll going as he seeks another strong start.
The right-hander continues to emerge as an anchor of the staff in his second year in the rotation. He went 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA in 2006 and has followed it up this season by allowing six runs in 27 innings over four starts, while holding opponents to a .186 batting average with 24 strikeouts.
Pittsburgh, though, wasted a strong effort by Snell on Saturday in a 7-3, 10-inning loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Snell departed after yielding two runs and five hits in seven innings, but the bullpen blew a one-run lead in the ninth before Russell Martin hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th.
“We got another tremendous start from Ian Snell,” Tracy told the team’s official Web site. “You can’t do it any better than that.”
Snell hopes for better results Friday when he faces the Reds, against whom he’s 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts, all coming last season.
While the Pirates are surging, the Reds (10-12) are sputtering, dropping to 2-6 in their last eight games with a 7-5 loss at St. Louis on Thursday. They managed to win the opener of the three-game set before dropping the next two.
A third straight defeat Friday would match Pittsburgh’s season-high skid from April 8-10.
Eric Milton (0-3, 4.32), who’s 1-5 with a 7.11 ERA in 11 starts against Pittsburgh, will try to prevent that from happening. The left-hander dropped his first outing against the Pirates this season April 8, when he allowed four runs and 10 hits through 5 2-3 innings of a 6-3 defeat.
Milton has performed better in the two outings since, allowing six runs - four earned - in 11 innings, but the team scored only one total run of support in those two games, leading to two more losses.
“It’s been tough this year,” Milton told the team’s Web site. “I’ve been putting a lot of work in, especially on my sinker.”
The Reds took two of three meetings with Pittsburgh from April 6-8 at Cincinnati.
They are uncertain of the status of Ken Griffey Jr., who missed Thursday’s game with soreness in his chest.