As the Atlanta Braves continue to surge, the Pittsburgh Pirates hope the likely return of the reigning NL MVP will help end their longest slide in two seasons.
With Andrew McCutchen coming off the disabled list, the Pirates try to avoid a seventh straight defeat and prevent the visiting Braves from winning their fifth straight Tuesday night.
McCutchen hasn’t played since Aug. 3 when he broke a rib while swinging the bat at Arizona. After taking time to heal and swing more comfortably, he was activated Tuesday, rejoining a team that went 5-9 in his absence.
Batting .311 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs, McCutchen was 6 for 13 with four RBIs in his last four contests. He hit .333 in his last four against the Braves (65-60).
McCutchen says he isn’t experiencing any pain but he will wear extra padding for the time being.
"I feel healed. I feel great," he told MLB’s official website. "The legs feel great, the arm feels great, the ribs feel great, the body feels great."
The Pirates (64-61) haven’t dropped seven straight since Sept. 7-14, 2012.
Atlanta built on a three-game home sweep of Oakland by snapping an eight-game road skid with a 7-3 victory Monday.
Jason Heyward homered and had three of the 15 hits for the Braves, who are one game out of the final wild-card spot in the NL.
Heyward was 5 for 28 without an RBI in his previous seven games, but is 9 for 18 with two home runs and four RBIs in his last four versus Pittsburgh.
Teammate Freddie Freeman has batted .442 in the last 12 games.
Aaron Harang (9-7, 3.51 ERA) was 4-0 with a 2.55 ERA in nine starts before he allowed five runs in 4 1-3 innings Thursday in a 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves have lost each of Harang’s last six outings.
"You’re not going to go out and be sharp every time," Harang said.
His teammates, however, have scored 10 runs with him on the mound in those six contests.
The right-hander’s last two starts against the Pirates have come at PNC Park over the previous two seasons where he allowed two runs, five hits and lasted six innings in each to split two decisions.
Harang’s 15 wins in 26 starts versus Pittsburgh match his most against any team.
McCutchen is 5 for 14 with a double against Harang, while teammate Starling Marte is 2 for 5.
Marte has batted .450 with three home runs and five RBIs in five games after his first career two-homer effort Monday.
Pittsburgh’s Travis Snider is hitting .412 in his last nine contests.
Though Francisco Liriano (3-9, 3.78) is 2-2 in his last six starts, he’s posted a 1.89 ERA and struck out 42 in 38 innings during that span. The Pirates have scored two runs with him on the mound over the last three, and none while he yielded two runs, four walks and nine strikeouts in six innings of a 5-2 loss at Detroit on Thursday.
In his only appearance against the Braves in 2010, the left-hander allowed a run and struck out 11 in eight innings of a 2-1 victory for Minnesota.