Pirates-Angels Preview

The Associated Press

After a frustrating start to the year, Pedro Alvarez is starting to carry the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Alvarez looks to stay hot at the plate Saturday night when the visiting Pirates continue a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels.

Though he collected just three hits in his first 41 at-bats and posted a .168 average through May 8, Alvarez has quickly become one of Pittsburgh's most dangerous hitters. Hitting .333 over his last 14 games, the slugging third baseman leads the team with 17 homers - 10 more than the next guy - and 49 RBIs.

One day after going 3 for 4 with a homer and season-high five RBIs in a 5-3 win at Cincinnati, Alvarez collected two more hits and went deep again in Friday's 5-2 victory. The Pirates (44-30) improved to 12-4 when Alvarez homers and 21-7 when he drives in at least one run.

"Pedro has the ability to shrink any park we play in," manager Clint Hurdle told MLB's official website. "The ability to drive in runs and be a run producer is quite evident. We knew it was a special talent when we drafted him. ... He has shown the ability to rise to the occasion."

Now in his fourth year in the majors, Alvarez is 9 for 24 with three home runs and 11 RBIs during a season-best six-game hitting streak. He's batting .373 with eight homers, 16 RBIs and 14 runs scored in his last 16 interleague contests.

Los Angeles (33-41) had won six of eight before dropping Friday's opener. The Angels failed to get much going aside from Albert Pujols' 13th homer, dropping to 1-18 when scoring two runs or fewer.

Pujols is batting .338 with five homers and 15 RBIs in his last 16 games, but he's 1 for 13 against scheduled starter Francisco Liriano (5-3, 2.44 ERA). The left-hander allowed two solo homers over six innings Monday in a 4-1 loss at Cincinnati.

"I made two mistakes, a hanging slider and a fastball right down the middle," said Liriano, who hadn't previously been taken deep. "You can't make those mistakes at this level."

Liriano, who's struck out 55 in 48 innings, has received one or zero runs of support in five of his last six outings.

Liriano has gone 1-4 over eight games - seven starts - against the Angels while posting a 6.69 ERA - his second-highest mark against any team.

Howie Kendrick is 7 for 14 with a homer, a triple and a double against Liriano, and Mark Trumbo has taken him deep twice in 11 at-bats.

Originally slated to start Saturday, Jason Vargas was placed on the disabled list due to a blood clot in his armpit. Los Angeles will instead go with Jerome Williams (5-2, 3.14), who's 4-2 with a 3.48 ERA in seven starts this year, including 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three at home.

The right-hander is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates, but he hasn't faced them since 2006.

Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton didn't play Friday due to a sore right wrist and is expected to remain out of the starting lineup through the weekend. The former MVP, hitless in his last 12 at-bats, is batting just .207 on the season.

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