Pirates-Braves Preview

The Pittsburgh Pirates are hitting and pitching better, becoming one of baseball's hottest teams.

They'll try to win for the 12th time in 14 games Friday night when they visit the Atlanta Braves.

Pittsburgh (29-24) comes off a road sweep of San Francisco, capped by a 5-2 victory Wednesday to bounce back after dropping two of three.

"We don't let one game roll into the next. We've been going to work here for three days," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I just like the fact we've been able to turn our season in a much better direction than we were almost two weeks ago Friday."

The Pirates are slugging .449 over the last 13 games compared to .368 previously, and Andrew McCutchen is at the forefront of that improvement. He's batting .467 with 10 extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in that span after hitting .194 in April with more strikeouts (15) than RBIs (13). He has hit .350 with three homers and 12 RBIs in his last 11 games at Turner Field.

Pittsburgh has a 2.18 ERA during the 11-2 stretch, including a 1.64 mark by the bullpen.

Charlie Morton has won both of his starts behind a 1.93 ERA since coming back from hip surgery. He knocked off San Diego 5-2 on the road Saturday, allowing three hits in seven innings and retiring the final 11 batters he faced.

"I expected to do well. That's why I'm here," he told MLB's official website. "I really didn't have expectations per se. Just expectations that I'm going to go out there and make good pitches and let the chips fall where they may."

Morton is 0-2 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts against the Braves, whom he hasn't faced since 2011.

Atlanta (26-27) is trying to avoid a third straight loss after falling 9-8 in Arizona on Wednesday. The bullpen allowed seven runs over six innings in the back-to-back defeats, and its 4.81 ERA is the highest in baseball.

"Some areas of our bullpen got exposed a little bit," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We need to fix that. I need to figure out a combination to get the ball to (Jason) Grilli's hands somehow. It's tough losing games like that."

Freddie Freeman is 9 for 24 with five homers and 10 RBIs in his last six games, including three home runs against the Diamondbacks.

"I felt good all series," said Freeman, who has only homered twice in 87 career at-bats against Pittsburgh. "Hope I can carry that over after the next series."

Williams Perez (1-0, 2.66) has been a pleasant surprise since sliding into the rotation last month, limiting opponents to two runs over 18 innings in his first three big league starts. He earned his first win Saturday, yielding four hits and four walks over seven innings of an 8-0 victory in San Francisco.

"From the first pitch, I felt in command," Perez said through an interpreter.

Pittsburgh won four of seven meetings last year, with the Braves totaling five runs in their losses.


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