Pirates-Reds Preview

The Associated Press

Charlie Morton hasn't had a lot of success away from home this season, but he turned in his finest outing on the road earlier this week.

His trips to the mound at Great American Ball Park the past few years haven't been too bad, either.

Morton looks to finish off a solid first half Saturday night as the Pittsburgh Pirates try to move on from a hard-to-swallow loss and even this series with the Cincinnati Reds.

After going 0-4 with a 4.21 ERA in his first six starts, Morton (5-9, 3.10 ERA) has been one of the NL's more consistent pitchers. The right-hander has a 2.57 ERA in 12 outings since May 6 with an opponent OPS of .592 - both ranking in the top 10 in the Senior Circuit in that stretch.

He didn't have a decision to show for his gem Monday, when he held the Cardinals to one hit over seven innings and only was lifted for a pinch hitter with the bases loaded in the eighth of a scoreless game. St. Louis went on to win 2-0.

Morton is 2-6 with a 3.88 ERA on the road this season, but he's focused on the positives in his last start before the All-Star break.

"I don't really pay attention to past success or failure," Morton said. "I just come here and study the hitters a little bit and try to make some pitches.

"I've got to go out there and keep my team in the game."

He's done that recently in Cincinnati, going 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA in four starts since 2011 - all Pirates wins.

Morton's lone start against the Reds (50-43) this season came in his rocky first month when he gave up four runs over six innings in a 5-2 loss.

Pittsburgh's 2.26 ERA from its rotation in July is third-best in the majors, and it got another quality effort Friday as Jeff Locke went 6 1-3 and held Cincinnati to one earned run. But the Reds scored two in the seventh after a Pedro Alvarez throwing error, then got three in the eighth off All-Star Tony Watson, rallying from four down to win 6-5.

"This is a huge victory for us," said Brayan Pena, who got the fifth consecutive and final hit off Watson to score Chris Heisey. "This is the kind of victory that shows what we can do. When we got behind, everybody kept pushing each other."

The Pirates (48-45), who fell to 21-29 within the NL Central, have seen nine of their major league high-tying 15 blown saves come in division games. They blew 15 all of last season.

The Reds, now 8-3 against the Pirates and 27-16 in the Central, will look to make it seven wins in eight games by sending Mike Leake (7-7, 3.42) to the hill.

The right-hander has been impressive over his last four starts, going 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA after holding the Chicago Cubs to three runs - two earned - in a 9-3 win Monday.

Leake is 5-0 with a 3.33 ERA in his last eight starts against the Pirates, though he has a 4.61 ERA in two this season.

He might want to be careful simply stepping out of the dugout in this one. The previous two Reds starters have left with injuries, and while Homer Bailey is expected to be OK after leaving Thursday's loss, it's unclear how severe Mat Latos' back spasms were after Friday's win.

Billy Hamilton had three more hits in the opener, bumping his average to .390 against the Pirates this season.

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