Reds-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates had perhaps their best offensive effort of the season in their opener against the Cincinnati Reds.

With Johnny Cueto on the mound as the series continues, the odds seem to be against a repeat performance.

Cueto has surrendered a total of six earned runs in his last six starts at PNC Park, a string of excellence he'll look to continue Saturday night as he tries to help the Reds avoid a fourth straight loss.

Pittsburgh (4-6) scored a total of eight runs in its first six games, but it's put up at least five three times in its last four. The Pirates have won each time they've done that, with Friday's 6-5 win coming on the strength of Andrew McCutchen's eighth-inning homer.

"This is what we're capable of doing,'' McCutchen said. "We have good hitters in our lineup. It's a matter of getting in that Michael Jordan-type mentality where you start thinking that you can outdo the next guy."

Pittsburgh had a season-high 12 hits Friday - two apiece from Nos. 1-4 hitters Starling Marte, Neil Walker, McCutchen and Garrett Jones - but continuing to trend upward on offense won't be easy.

Cueto (1-0, 2.77 ERA) had 12 wins in his first five major league seasons against the Pirates - he hasn't had more than eight against anyone else - and he's been especially good in Pittsburgh. The right-hander is 7-2 with a 2.10 ERA in 11 outings at PNC, including a 4-1 mark and 1.23 ERA in his last six.

Cueto gave up a run and three hits while striking out nine over seven innings in his season debut against the Angels, but wasn't as sharp Sunday against Washington. He needed 108 pitches to make it through six, allowing three runs in a 6-3 win.

"That's the sign of a good pitcher. You're not always going to have your best stuff," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website of Cueto's performance. "If you do, the game would be easy. You would be Sandy Koufax if you always had your best stuff. You have to find a way."

Marte has found a way to ignite the Pirates' offense at the top, getting two hits in six consecutive games - a stretch in which he has led off with a hit in the first inning each time. Pittsburgh's speedy left fielder has never faced Cueto.

"He may not be the typical leadoff hitter who draws a lot of walks, but the thing he does well is that he swings at good pitches,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. "When he sees the first hittable pitch, he goes after it aggressively and puts a good swing on it.''

Marte scored in the first inning on a McCutchen homer in Jeff Locke's season debut Sunday in Los Angeles, but the left-hander gave back both those runs in the bottom of the inning. Locke gave up two more in the next five of a 6-2 loss.

Locke has faced the Reds (5-5) just once, allowing one run over 4 2-3 innings in a 4-3 win Sept. 23, 2011.

Left-handers are hitting .340 (18 for 53) against Locke so far in his brief major league career, something the Reds hope bodes well for Jay Bruce.

Bruce is 2 for 12 with five strikeouts over his last three games, and his fourth-inning single Friday is his only hit in 26 at-bats in his last seven against Pittsburgh.

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