Pirates-Reds Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates had another big offensive game in their series opener against the Cincinnati Reds.

A repeat performance could be tough Wednesday night against Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto, who is regularly tough on Pittsburgh.

Cueto aims for a second straight strong start against the Pirates, but is also hoping for a different outcome this time as the NL Central-leading Reds try to avoid their first three-game losing streak since mid-April.

After clubbing a season-best four homers Sunday in a 6-5 win at Milwaukee, Pittsburgh (28-26) went deep three times in Tuesday's 8-4 victory at Great American Ball Park. Alex Presley - called up from the minors before the series opener - Neil Walker and Casey McGehee all homered for the Pirates, while Clint Barmes had three hits and three RBIs.

Pittsburgh has plated at least six runs three times in its last four games, a rare showing for a team that ranks last in the majors in runs with 170.

"It just shows what we're capable of on offense,'' said Walker, who is 5 for 10 in the last two games. "Up and down the lineup, we've been able to relax a little more and go out and compete.''

The Pirates have won eight of 10 to pull within two games of the Reds (30-24), but closing the gap further could be tricky against Cueto (5-3, 2.54 ERA), who has held some of Pittsburgh's best hitters in check.

Since 2010, Andrew McCutchen is batting .167 in 24 at-bats against Cueto, Garrett Jones is hitting .150 with eight strikeouts in 20 at-bats and Walker is 3 for 18.

The Pirates barely got the better of Cueto last Wednesday in Pittsburgh, as he allowed two runs, five hits and four walks in seven innings, but didn't get much help from his offense and was saddled with a 2-1 loss. He had a shutout going with two outs in the sixth until Walker walked, Jones followed with a single and Matt Hague brought them both in with a double.

Although he didn't get the win Wednesday, Cueto is 5-2 with a 1.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in his last eight starts against the Pirates. His 11 career wins over Pittsburgh are more than double his total against any other opponent.

While Pittsburgh's offense is heating up, the Reds went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position Tuesday to lose their second in a row following an 11-3 surge. Cincinnati hasn't dropped three straight games since April 12-14.

Joey Votto had two singles and two RBIs on Tuesday to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. The Cincinnati slugger is batting .568 during his run, and is 2 for 5 with two doubles lifetime against Brad Lincoln (3-0, 1.04), who is slated to make his second start of the season for the Pirates.

Lincoln, filling in for the injured Charlie Morton (right elbow inflammation), has been outstanding in a relief role, recording a 0.45 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 12 hits in 20 innings, and was just as impressive in his lone start of 2012. The right-hander gave up two runs, four hits and a walk in six innings of a 3-2 victory at Miami on May 14.

Lincoln has made 18 career starts, including one against Cincinnati last Sept. 24, when he allowed two runs while scattering six hits and four walks in five innings of a 4-3 win.

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