Pirates hope to get on a roll against Reds

The Pittsburgh Pirates will be trying to win three games in a row after a rough month and the Cincinnati Reds will be looking to avoid the start of a skid when the teams play the middle game of a series Saturday at PNC Park.

Pittsburgh (34-35) won the series opener 3-2, posting back-to-back wins for the first time since winning three straight May 15-17 to reach a season-best nine games above .500.

In the interim before Friday’s win, the Pirates were 6-18 and entered the weekend as close to the last-place Reds (eight games) as they were to first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central.

“It’s a long season. There’s going to be times where stuff like that happens,” Pittsburgh third baseman Colin Moran said of the poor stretch. “It’s more important that we bounce back like we did.”

Cincinnati (23-44) had won three in a row before Friday.

Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova (3-5, 4.68 ERA) is scheduled to face Reds right-hander Luis Castillo (4-7, 5.79) on Saturday.

Nova on Sunday returned from the disabled list (sprained right ring finger) without having made any rehab starts. No matter. He struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings, giving up one run and four hits in a 7-1 win over the Cubs in Chicago.

It showed the Pirates that the veteran can still be highly effective. It showed Nova that it is better to be forthcoming about nagging injuries and be willing to step away and heal.

“Just the way that the ball was coming out of my hand, I could tell the difference right away,” Nova said. “To be able to pitch a game like (that) … I think that’s kind of a lesson for you. Don’t force it.”

He had not had any sort of organized outing since his last appearance before May 24 when he went on the DL.

“He was ready to pitch,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “At the end of the day, he showed you he was ready to pitch.”

Nova also impressed the opposition.

“He was hitting the corners all day, keeping the ball down,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo told MLB.com. “It’s tough to do anything when he’s on like that.”

Nova is 3-7 with a 4.67 ERA in 10 career starts against Cincinnati.

Castillo’s last start was much more mixed than Nova’s.

In a 6-4 loss to St. Louis, Castillo had a career-high 10 strikeouts but also a career-high two homers allowed as Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna smacked back-to-back dingers in the first inning after Castillo struck out the first two hitters on six pitches. He also gave up a first-pitch, bases-loaded triple to Yadier Molina in the third.

“You just have to be strong mentally, more than physically,” Castillo said through an interpreter.

He gave up five runs and four hits in six innings that game. Despite the rocky start and the loss, Castillo, 25, managed an in-game turnaround, allowing just one batter to reach base in his final three innings.

“You saw the talent of Castillo,” Cincinnati manager Jim Riggleman said. “The last three innings that he threw were outstanding, and it’s exciting to know that this guy has got a chance to be around here for a very long time. He’s just going to get better and better once he gets past these growing pains.”

Castillo is 1-2 with a 3.68 ERA in four career starts against Pittsburgh, with 22 strikeouts in 22 innings.