Phillies-Pirates Preview

Cole Hamels can be overshadowed at times in a Philadelphia
Phillies rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt,
but his success has helped the team stay atop the NL East despite
multiple injuries.

Expected to have its projected everyday lineup intact for the
first time, Philadelphia turns to Hamels in the quest to avoid a
third straight loss Friday night at the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Hamels (7-2, 3.01 ERA) has won three straight starts, including
a 5-2 victory over the New York Mets on Sunday in which he allowed
two runs through seven innings. The left-hander, who has a 2.57 ERA
and 22 strikeouts in 21 innings during his win streak, now has a
chance to win four consecutive outings for the third time in his
six-year career. He accomplished the feat May 1-16, 2007, and won
five straight last Aug. 29-Sept. 20.

Hamels will have a tough time extending his streak if the
offense can’t perform better than in its last two games. The
Phillies (34-22) lost their final two games in Washington this
week, 10-2 on Tuesday and 2-1 on Wednesday.

However, center fielder Shane Victorino is expected to be
activated from the disabled list, giving the Phillies their entire
projected starting lineup for the first time all season – including
spring training. Victorino was hitting .284 with six home runs and
19 RBIs before straining his right hamstring May 18.

“It’s going to be good,” manager Charlie Manuel told MLB.com.
“That’s going to make us better.”

Though Manuel expects the offensive production to rise with
Victorino’s return, Chase Utley is still trying to find his rhythm.
The second baseman, who opened the season on the disabled list, is
batting .194 in nine games since returning.

“Utley is getting close,” Manuel said. “He’s starting to swing
better. When we get Victorino back, yeah, we get better.
Offensively, we’re going to get better.”

If Hamels earns the victory Friday, he’ll tie Pirates ace Kevin
Correia – whom the Phillies will miss in this series – for the
major league wins lead.

The Pirates (26-29) will be looking to bounce back from a
devastating loss. They led the New York Mets 7-0 in the third
inning Thursday but wound up falling 9-8. The defeat capped a 4-3
road trip before returning to PNC Park, where they’ve lost five of
seven.

“Completing the task is what we need to take from this,”
manager Clint Hurdle said. “People at this level, no matter how
hard, no one’s going to give up. There’s too much pride
involved.”

The collapse overshadowed a four-RBI day for Neil Walker, whose
two-run homer in the second inning extended his hitting streak to
seven games. Walker is 10 for 30 during his run.

Outfielder Xavier Paul added a career-high four hits, giving him
six over his last two games. Paul had 12 hits over his previous 33
contests.

Jeff Karstens (3-4, 3.58) will be on the mound for the series
opener trying to avoid a third straight loss.

The right-hander pitched two innings of relief May 25 and
allowed the decisive two runs in the 11th inning of a 4-2 defeat to
Atlanta, then fell 3-2 as a starter Sunday against the Chicago Cubs
after giving up three runs – two earned – over five innings.

Karstens has made one career start against Philadelphia,
yielding five runs in six innings but not getting a decision in the
Pirates’ 8-5 victory July 4.

The Pirates took three of four home meetings with the Phillies
last season.