Outstanding pitching has spurred the Pittsburgh Pirates to one of the best records in the NL.
Despite some recent struggles, the Cincinnati Reds aren't far behind.
Wandy Rodriguez is slated to get the ball in an attempt to help the Pirates conclude May with their longest home winning streak in over five years Friday night against the Reds.
Pittsburgh (34-20) has won 16 of its last 20 thanks in large part to a 2.21 ERA from the staff - 1.96 while going 10-2 at home. That success has put the Pirates in second place in the NL Central, one game ahead of Cincinnati as both teams chase first-place St. Louis.
Pittsburgh is on a six-game home winning streak, during which its pitchers have compiled a 1.45 ERA. The Pirates haven't put together a longer run at home since winning seven straight from April 27-May 12, 2008.
Matching that feat would mean beating Cincinnati (33-21) at PNC Park again after sweeping a three-game set from April 12-14.
Pittsburgh got another dazzling effort Thursday, when six pitchers combined to scatter nine hits in a 1-0, 11-inning victory over Detroit - its second such win over the Tigers in three games.
"It goes back to the staples of pitching we've been talking about since the start of spring training," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Have intent with every pitch and have conviction with every pitch and execution will follow."
That seems to be the case for Rodriguez (6-2, 3.58 ERA), who is looking to win a career-high five straight starts in the opener of this three-game series.
The left-hander has won four games in a row with a 3.00 ERA, but his latest outing was his shortest of that stretch.
Rodriguez allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings of a 5-4 win at Milwaukee on Sunday.
A return home could be just what Rodriguez needs to keep his winning streak going since he's compiled a 1.93 ERA while winning four of five home starts. However, he's 0-2 with a 5.28 ERA over his last five outings versus Cincinnati.
Rodriguez has also struggled versus Joey Votto, who is hitting .373 against him after going 6 for 11 with two doubles and a homer last year.
The Reds' slugging first baseman is a career .357 hitter at Pittsburgh, and he's batting .414 with six homers, 25 runs and 14 RBIs on the road this season. However, he went 1 for 8 while Cincinnati dropped back-to-back games to Cleveland, including 7-1 on Thursday.
The Reds are expected to turn to Johnny Cueto (2-0, 2.76), who returns to Pittsburgh for the first time since getting hurt in a 3-1 loss April 13.
The right-hander allowed one run and two hits before exiting in the fifth inning due to a strained right triceps, which sidelined him for five weeks.
Cueto earned a 4-3 win over the New York Mets in his return to the mound May 20, yielding three runs and three hits with eight strikeouts and four walks in five innings. He was even better six days later, allowing one run in seven innings while not getting a decision in a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
"Outstanding stuff," manager Dusty Baker told the team's official website. "That's Johnny. He was throwing like he wasn't afraid of hurting anything. He was a little tentative his last time out, but he was a lot sharper and more aggressive than he was in New York."
Cueto is 12-4 with a 2.52 ERA in 20 career starts against the Pirates, going 7-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 12 games at Pittsburgh.
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