Pirates-Reds Preview

The Associated Press

Andrew McCutchen's heroics may have turned the tables on Cincinnati, but any momentum the Pittsburgh Pirates picked up could be stunted by the Reds' dominant ace.

After the reigning NL MVP helped them even this three-game series, the Pirates will try to win back-to-back contests for the first time in 13 meetings with the Reds when they face Johnny Cueto on Sunday at Great American Ball Park.

Pittsburgh (49-45) had a four-run lead in the seventh inning Friday before Cincinnati (50-43) rallied for a stunning 6-5 win. It was a similar story Saturday, when the Pirates built a four-run advantage before the Reds put up a five-spot in the sixth.

McCutchen, however, delivered a tying home run off Jonathan Broxton in the ninth inning before launching the go-ahead shot in the 11th for a 6-5 victory.

The All-Star had his third straight multi-hit game and is batting .412 with five home runs and 13 RBIs over his last 11. He has 20 career homers against Cincinnati, the most any player has hit against the Reds since 2009.

"Huge swings of the bat for us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's a special player."

Hurdle's club has totaled 20 runs while winning two of three following a three-game losing streak. Now the Pirates have a chance to catch the third-place Reds with their fifth win in the season series.

That's likely to be a difficult challenge against Cueto (9-6, 2.03 ERA).

The right-hander has the lowest opponent batting average (.180) in the majors, while ranking third in ERA and eighth in strikeouts (134). He's been especially tough at home, where he is fifth among MLB starters with a 1.72 ERA.

Cueto is looking to win his fourth straight start at home after allowing two runs over 6 1-3 innings in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

The All-Star is 15-4 with a 2.18 ERA in 24 career starts against the Pirates. He gave up a total of one run in two complete-game wins in April before allowing two runs over six innings June 17. He did not factor in that decision, a 6-5 win at Pittsburgh.

McCutchen, hitting .426 with six homers versus Cincinnati, is 4 for 10 with a home run and two doubles against Cueto.

"We know what they have over there," said Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, who is hitless in 14 at-bats versus scheduled Pirates starter Francisco Liriano.

Liriano (1-6, 4.60) returns to the rotation after missing a month with a left oblique strain. The left-hander has a 2.84 ERA in six road starts, though he's 0-3 with a 5.19 ERA in three career starts in Cincinnati.

Liriano allowed three runs over seven innings in a 4-0 loss there April 16 before giving up five runs over seven innings at home five days later. He did not factor in that decision as the Pirates rallied late for a 6-5 win.

Devin Mesoraco is 4 for 9 with two doubles all-time versus Liriano, while Todd Frazier has gone 5 for 14 with two home runs. Frazier went 2 for 4 Saturday with his first homer in 20 games, but he's hitting .338 over that stretch.

Even though Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Skip Schumaker are out with injuries, the Reds have averaged 5.3 runs and batted .292 while winning six of eight.

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