Phillies-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

It appears the Pittsburgh Pirates paid a small price for their ninth straight victory, as a brief bullpen session in the 14th inning from Jeff Locke put them in need of a starter for their opener against Philadelphia.

The Pirates' track record of plugging holes in their rotation, however, couldn't be much more successful.

Heading into July with the best record in baseball, Pittsburgh looks for its first 10-game winning streak in nine years Tuesday night when it hosts the Phillies.

Locke is the only starter in the Pirates' current rotation that opened the season in that position, but the left-hander will get a little extra rest after warming up in the 14th on Sunday before Pittsburgh escaped that same inning with a 2-1 win over Milwaukee.

A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald are on the disabled list while Jonathan Sanchez is no longer with the organization, but the Pirates (51-30) haven't panicked. Locke has the third-best ERA in baseball while Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton have stepped in to provide a cumulative 2.71 ERA in 18 starts.

While those three are all seen as more permanent fixtures, Pittsburgh is also 10-1 in games started by Brandon Cumpton (0-0, 3.60 ERA), Jeanmar Gomez and Phil Irwin.

Cumpton will get the ball Tuesday in his third major league start, while Locke or Gomez will go Wednesday and Cole will take the hill Thursday. Cumpton went five innings in his first two major league starts last month in Burnett's place.

The right-hander will be returning to the staff with the best ERA in the majors (3.11), ranking in the top three both in the rotation (3.30) and out of the bullpen (2.84).

"Their pitching is outstanding," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke told MLB's official website. "I see why their ERAs are where they are, because every guy out of the bullpen has good stuff. It's located well. They have off-speed stuff, fastballs, their pitching staff is really good."

The starters have a 2.36 ERA during the franchise's longest winning streak since a 10-game run in 2004, while the bullpen is riding a 20-inning scoreless streak. The Pirates' relief corps gave up only four hits over 18 frames in the sweep of Milwaukee.

"It's fun right now,'' catcher Russell Martin said. "Obviously, winning is fun, but just being on a team with a bunch of guys who play with their hearts out there and enjoy the game, it's definitely been a pleasure.''

The bullpen had a 1.35 ERA while Pittsburgh took the final three in a four-game series at Philadelphia in late April, including come-from-behind wins in the last two.

The Phillies (39-44) dropped to 9-14 after that series finale, and they're back at their low-water mark of the season after a 6-1 loss in Los Angeles on Sunday. Philadelphia outscored the Dodgers 24-17 in the four-game set thanks to Friday's 16-1 win, but lost the other three.

The Phillies are 9 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East and eight back in the wild-card race.

"We've been in much tougher positions with much less time," shortstop Jimmy Rollins told the team's official website. "... Last I checked, we haven't made it to the All-Star break yet."

Rookie Jonathan Pettibone (3-3, 4.17), who gave up two runs over 5 1-3 in his major league debut against the Pirates on April 22, will try again for his first win since May 14. The right-hander gave up three runs in the first inning Thursday against the Dodgers, but retired the final 15 batters he faced.

Pettibone has a 6.39 ERA in six road starts.

Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez took Pettibone deep in April, and Alvarez is coming off one of the best months of his career, hitting .309 with an NL best-tying 10 homers.

Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, on the other hand, can't wait to forget about the end of June. He is hitless in 20 consecutive at-bats with 11 strikeouts.

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