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.