They could have a great opportunity to stay hot against a familiar face.
A pitching mismatch could be on tap Saturday night at PNC Park, where Charlie Morton(notes) brings the majors’ highest ERA into his second start against his former club, while Derek Lowe(notes) tries stay perfect in his eighth start versus Pittsburgh.
Atlanta’s once-sputtering offense has taken off over the last 11 games, averaging 6.8 runs as the team has gone 9-2 to help put its 13-18 start in the past.
The Braves (22-20) have especially taken advantage of the NL Central, winning eight straight against the division while outscoring those opponents 64-24 heading into Friday’s visit to Pittsburgh.
After three consecutive walk-off victories - including Thursday’s seven-run, ninth-inning comeback to beat Cincinnati 10-9 - Atlanta didn’t have to sweat in the opener. Heyward had three hits, including a towering two-run homer, as the Braves cruised to a 7-0 victory while holding the Pirates (18-24) to four singles.
“There’s nothing better than winning like we did yesterday (Thursday), then winning again,” said manager Bobby Cox, who celebrated his 69th birthday. “It’s kind of inspiring to win a game like we did (against Cincinnati). It gets you on rolls.”
The right-hander, part of the deal that sent Nate McLouth(notes) to Atlanta on June 3, showed signs of potential in the Pirates’ rotation after the 2009 All-Star break, but his first two months this season have been disastrous. Just as it seemed like Morton might be headed in the right direction with three consecutive quality starts, he gave up six runs over four innings in a 12-2 loss at Philadelphia on Monday.
No starter who’s pitched at least 20 innings has a higher ERA.
“We’re still very confident in Charlie,” manager John Russell told the Pirates’ official website. “He’s going to be fine. We’ve seen progress. He’s not going to cruise through the rest of the season. He’s going to have some bumps in the road. This is one of them.”
Morton has faced the Braves once - a week after the trade - but the start was short-lived. He left the June 10 outing with a tight hamstring after one inning.
Heyward’s homer Friday was his team-high ninth but first since May 4, though the rest of the lineup has provided plenty of power lately. Martin Prado(notes), Brooks Conrad(notes) and Troy Glaus(notes) are hitting a combined .349 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs since May 10.
It’s tough to tell what to expect from Derek Lowe (5-4, 5.47), but after some early inconsistency, the Braves are hopeful his last two starts are a positive sign. He lasted six innings and allowed two runs in a 9-2 win at Milwaukee on May 12, and was a hard-luck 3-2 loser against the Mets on Monday after giving up three runs over seven innings.
Based on his history against the Pirates, Lowe can count on getting back in the win column Saturday. He’s 7-0 with a 2.89 ERA in seven starts versus Pittsburgh.