Pirates-Indians Preview

The Associated Press

Poor pitching has cost the Pittsburgh Pirates a share of the NL Central lead.

The Cleveland Indians' staff hasn't done themselves any favors lately, either.

The Pirates will try to put the brakes on their longest losing streak in two months Friday night when they open a three-game series with the Indians.

Pittsburgh (32-30) entered its series in Baltimore tied for first place in the division but three straight losses has dropped the club three games behind Cincinnati.

Those defeats can be blamed largely on ineffective pitching by the Pirates, who compiled a 9.38 ERA and allowed the Orioles to hit .396 with 19 extra-base hits - including seven homers. That dismal stretch followed a 12-3 run, during which Pittsburgh sported a 3.02 ERA.

Thursday's 12-6 loss was the ugliest of the three, as Baltimore pounded out a season-high 16 hits - eight doubles - and held a 10-0 lead after four innings.

An even bigger blow to the pitching staff came earlier in the day when it was announced that right-hander Charlie Morton underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him out 12-18 months.

"The sky's not going to be falling now that we got swept here in Baltimore," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We got wiped out. We got outplayed for three days."

Hurdle hopes James McDonald (5-2, 2.39 ERA) can give his overworked bullpen a much-needed rest. Six of the right-hander's last eight starts have resulted in wins for the Pirates and he's 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA during that stretch.

McDonald, though, had his worst outing of the season Saturday against Kansas City, allowing three runs and five hits over four innings in a 5-3 win.

"I just didn't have any command of my pitches and it's the type of game I want to throw away and start looking to bounce back for the next one," said McDonald, who is facing Cleveland (32-30) for the first time.

The Pirates have never fared well on the road against AL opponents, losing 40 of their last 48 interleague away games. They've dropped four straight and eight of nine at Progressive Field.

Cleveland won't be in any mood to offer sympathy to Pittsburgh's battered pitchers since its staff has a 6.25 ERA during a 6-12 stretch. The Indians were outscored 24-9 in a three-game sweep at Cincinnati, giving up 17 hits in a 12-5 loss Thursday to complete a 4-5 road trip.

"Not the way you wanted to finish a road trip," manager Manny Acta said. "They beat us on both sides of the ball. Their starters pretty much held our offense down, and they out-hit us, too."

One positive in the loss was Michael Brantley extending his hitting streak to 21 games, longest in the majors this season.

''He's got that streak going, which is such a nice thing and special,'' Acta said. "That's one good thing going right now.''

Justin Masterson (2-6, 4.76) will try to avoid losing a career-high fourth straight start for the Indians. Though he's 0-3 with a 5.21 ERA during the skid, those numbers are somewhat misleading since most of that damage came in an 8-2 loss to Kansas City on May 29.

The right-hander was a tough-luck 2-0 loser at St. Louis on Saturday, yielding one run and five hits in seven innings with no walks and six strikeouts.

Masterson, who has no record in two starts against Pittsburgh, has held Andrew McCutchen - the only Pirate hitting above .271 - hitless in six career at-bats.