A new look in front of Andrew McCutchen has the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup looking dangerous and could further help turn around their road woes offensively.
Continuing that trend Sunday against Henderson Alvarez in Miami will be a tall order.
Newcomer Gregory Polanco, a resurgent Starling Marte and the red-hot McCutchen have dominated this series to help Pittsburgh return to .500, but no team has scored on Alvarez at Marlins Park in six weeks.
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Alvarez (3-3, 2.56 ERA) left his start last Sunday at Wrigley Field with a strained hip, but it was nothing serious – and with extra rest after Miami had two days off this week – he’s ready to go.
"I’m going to pitch the entire season," Alvarez told the team’s official website. "Everything was fine. I was good. The only thing is when I fell, it looked ugly."
The right-hander had a 26-inning scoreless streak snapped as he gave up two runs – one earned – in 5 1-3 innings before the Marlins rallied to win 4-3. Alvarez has thrown 25 consecutive scoreless innings at home since May 1 with two shutouts, and he leads the majors with three – all in Miami.
He’s facing a Pirates club which has posted 8-6 victories in the first two games of this series behind 35 hits, including four homers. Alvarez has surrendered only six homers in his last 30 starts and none in his past five.
McCutchen has a major league-best seven homers in June, including a three-run shot Saturday in his seventh straight multihit effort. He’s batting .415 with 18 RBIs this month as the Pirates have gone 9-4.
"I’m just getting pitches to hit and I’m hitting them," said McCutchen, riding a 10-game hitting streak.
While the reigning NL MVP has batted third all season, the highly touted Polanco moved into the leadoff spot and Marte to No. 2 for the past three games. Polanco, called up Tuesday, is 7 for 12 with four RBIs in this series and had a two-run homer in the 13th inning of Friday’s 8-6 win. Marte also homered that night and had two hits Saturday, making him 14 for 28 in six games after entering the week in an 0-for-23 drought and batting .230.
Those youngsters have Pittsburgh (34-34) seeking a season-high fifth straight win and with a chance to climb above .500 for the first time since April 14.
"You believe in the talent and you believe in the guys on the team," manager Clint Hurdle said. "… These guys have been resilient in challenging times."
The Pirates have been below .500 most of the season partly due to a major league-worst 7-16 road record through May 28, batting .223 with 3.1 runs per game. They’ve since won seven of nine road games while hitting .295 with 13 homers.
The Marlins (34-33) have gone the other direction at home, losing six of eight after opening 20-7. They’ve fallen into early deficits in the last two games and totaled eight of their 12 runs in the ninth inning.
"It continues to show the character of our guys – they don’t quit," manager Mike Redmond said after Marcell Ozuna and Jeff Baker hit two-run homers in the ninth Saturday.
Miami tries to avoid the sweep by spoiling Vance Worley’s debut with Pittsburgh. The right-hander was 3-2 with a 4.30 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Indianapolis this year after being acquired from Minnesota on March 25 for cash considerations.
Worley was 1-5 with a 7.21 ERA in 10 starts for the Twins last year after spending his first three seasons with Philadelphia. He’s 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three games against the Marlins but hasn’t faced them since 2011.
Alvarez’s only two career starts against the Pirates came last season, going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA.