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AP - Sports

A trip to Philadelphia usually doesn't turn out well for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that could turn out differently this year.

The Pirates plan to give Jeff Karstens his first start in two months Monday night as they begin a four-game series against the last-place Phillies.

Pittsburgh (38-33) has dropped 18 of 23 at Citizens Bank Park since it opened eight years ago, and the club hasn't won a series in Philadelphia since taking two of three at Veterans Stadium from April 4-6, 2003.

However, the Pirates begin their seven-game trip with plenty of momentum after winning six of eight to move within one game of NL Central-leading Cincinnati. Pittsburgh is hitting like a first-place team, averaging 5.6 runs in those eight games.

Despite going 0 for 4 in a loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers on Sunday, Andrew McCutchen is batting .469 (15 for 32) with two homers and eight RBIs during that stretch, while Pedro Alvarez is hitting .462 (12 for 26) with five homers and 10 RBIs.

"Different guys are coming through, getting on base and getting big hits," McCutchen told the Pirates' official website. "What we're doing now, hopefully we can continue and keep the momentum going."

The Pirates also have a 2.13 ERA in their last eight games, and Karstens (0-1, 4.50 ERA) will try to continue that run of solid pitching as he makes his first start since April 17 following shoulder and hip problems.

The right-hander was originally slated to make a Triple-A rehab start Sunday, but he will now pitch in place of Erik Bedard, who will move back a day.

"They saw what they saw (during a Thursday bullpen session), and came to the idea that I would start Monday," Karstens said. "I'm happy about it, and will try to keep this team doing what they've been doing."

Karstens will face the Phillies for the second time in 2012. In his season debut April 7, he threw six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 10-inning home win that ended the Pirates' five-game skid in this series.

Philadelphia (34-40) continues its 10-game homestand after losing twice to Tampa Bay on Sunday. The five-time defending NL East champs are in last place in the division, and manager Charlie Manuel is not pleased with the team's 7-15 June record - or with people questioning some of his late-game decisions.

"You guys (the media) ought to sit in the dugout with me and give me all the scenarios," Manuel said. "Like really, I think you should sit down there with us or tweet us (strategy) or something."

Monday's scheduled starter Joe Blanton (6-6, 5.04) needs to do something different after posting a 7.44 ERA in his last seven starts. He has given up at least one homer in each of his last eight outings, allowing three Wednesday during Philadelphia's 7-6 win over Colorado.

The right-hander, 1-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts against the Pirates, will almost certainly be pitching to Carlos Ruiz after Brian Schneider suffered an ankle sprain on a collision at the plate Sunday.

The Phillies won't have Chase Utley (knee) on Monday, but there's a chance the five-time All-Star second baseman could make his season debut as early as Wednesday.

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