Hot Pirates look to keep Giants down

Even the warm and fuzzies of Andrew McCutchen’s return to PNC Park couldn’t slow the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ offense Friday, a train that has been chugging during a four-game winning streak.

The Pirates’ 11-2 win over the San Francisco Giants upped their run total to 36 over the four games going into Saturday’s second game of a weekend series.

“We’re just having a lot of fun. I think that’s the best part about it when you’re on a roll like we are,” said Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, who is 8-for-17 over a four-game hitting streak that matches the team’s winning streak. “We’re just having a lot of fun, enjoying each other’s company. Everybody’s stepping up.”

While Pittsburgh (22-16) enjoyed, but didn’t get distracted by, the return of McCutchen, San Francisco (19-20) couldn’t feed off it, losing its fifth in a row.

“Everybody got to honor Andrew their own way — a lot of guys got to talk to him before the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re focused on the games.”

McCutchen was 1-for-5 for the Giants on Friday, his double in the seventh keeping alive his 21-game streak of getting on base.

There were multiple standing ovations and video tributes, and the cheering could continue through the weekend for McCutchen, the face of the Pirates franchise for most of the past decade and the National League MVP in 2013. He was traded to San Francisco in January.

“Hopefully, showing up (Saturday), it will be a little more normal,” McCutchen said.

Saturday, Pittsburgh right-hander Chad Kuhl (4-2, 4.12 ERA) is scheduled to face Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 6.62).

Kuhl is coming off of one of his best starts. He tied a career high with eight strikeouts and allowed just one hit in seven scoreless innings Sunday in a 9-0 win at Milwaukee.

That provided what he and Hurdle thought was a big boost coming off of a rough outing. Even though Kuhl is 3-1 over his past four starts, that loss was a doozy — he gave up six runs, four of them earned, and allowed four home runs in a season-low 4 2/3 innings against Washington.

“It was a really good step forward for him again and a confidence-builder,” Hurdle said of Kuhl’s bounce-back game against the Nationals.

Kuhl simply went back to basics.

“When you know you’ve had success and remember some pitches that may have worked for you, you’re able to use that to your advantage, but every game is different,” Kuhl said. “I tried to really forget what happened (against Washington).”

Kuhl has made one career start against the Giants, last July 1. He gave up one run in six innings and did not get a decision.

Samardzija is looking not so much for a bounce-back game as some consistency since he started the season on the disabled list because of a pectoral injury.

On Monday he gave up five runs and four hits in four innings in an 11-0 loss against Philadelphia.

“We had an idea it was going to be a process,” Samardzija told the San Francisco Chronicle.

He hit 97 mph against the Phillies, leading manager Bruce Bochy to say, “I was encouraged, really. He was back to having his normal stuff and velocity. The command is an issue.”

Samardzija has walked 13 batters in 17 2/3 innings after walking just 32 in 207 2/3 innings in 2017.

Against Pittsburgh, he is 6-4 with a 2.80 ERA in 25 career games, 14 of them starts. That 2.80 ERA is the second-lowest among active pitchers with at least 75 innings against the Pirates, behind Giants teammate Johnny Cueto (2.19 ERA).