The Cincinnati Reds wouldn't mind a repeat of last year's performance out of the All-Star break.
Backed by excellent pitching, the Reds will look to move a step closer to the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates when they play host to their division rivals Saturday afternoon.
The Reds, who won 19 of 22 out of the break last season to take over first place in the NL Central, got off to a solid start Friday night, beating the Pirates 5-3.
"That's a great win to start the second half of the season,'' All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "We're playing a great team. It's time to have some fun and wipe out the mistakes of the first half.''
The Reds (54-42) have stayed afloat in the division race through strong pitching. They have a 2.83 ERA over their last 16 games with a .206 average against. That has helped compensate for an offense that has been held to three runs or fewer in eight of those 16 games.
Mat Latos (8-3, 3.53 ERA) is one of the few Cincinnati pitchers who haven't pitched well of late, yielding four-plus runs in consecutive starts for the first time this season. He allowed six runs and nine hits in a season-low four innings of a 6-5 loss to Atlanta on July 11.
"He got a few balls in the heart of the plate,'' Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's probably the worst outing Mat's had since he's been here.''
The right-hander will attempt to earn his first win in four tries against Pittsburgh this season. The Pirates (56-38) had lost all six games facing Latos entering 2013, but they have won all three of Latos' starts this season. Most recently, on June 18, Latos suffered his first loss against the Pirates, surrendering three runs in five innings, despite nine strikeouts.
Latos has dominated several of the Pirates' key cogs, holding Garrett Jones to 3 for 22 with nine strikeouts, while also faring well against Andrew McCutchen (1 for 9) and Starling Marte (2 for 8 with four strikeouts) in 2013.
Pittsburgh will counter with A.J. Burnett (4-6, 3.06), who has pitched well but has yet to win since missing nearly a month with a tear in his right calf. Burnett has a 2.53 ERA in two starts back from the disabled list, but the lack of run support that plagued him before his injury has continued. He has just one victory over his last nine starts, with only 16 runs of support during that span.
Burnett wasn't terribly sharp Saturday against the Mets, allowing seven hits and four walks in 5 2-3 innings, but was able to minimize the damage by allowing two runs in a 4-2 win.
Pittsburgh, which has averaged 2.6 runs per game while losing six of nine, hit three solo homers in the sixth inning Friday, but failed to score a run on five hits in the other eight frames. They can at least take solace in Russell Martin's home run, however. The catcher entered the All-Star break mired in a 2-for-21 (.095) slump before recording his first long ball since June 25 and his first multi-hit game since July 3.
Phillips, meanwhile, has knocked in 13 runs in his last six games, including a bases-clearing double Friday.
"It's my job to try to drive men in," Phillips said. "I've been doing it all year. That's what it's all about.''
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