Pirates host D-backs with series win on minds (May 31, 2017)

BY AP • May 31, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- Their All-Star center fielder was suspended half a season for flunking a drug test. A top pitcher underwent testicular cancer surgery. Other key players have occupied the disabled list, and the former National League Most Valuable Player has carried last season's struggles over to this one.

All that helps explain why the Pittsburgh Pirates occupy last place in the National League Central. And yet, said Andrew McCutchen, the ex-MVP, "Even though our record isn't where we want it to be, we're still in it."

The Pirates have had issues, but the club is still hanging around in the National League Central. Even though they were shut out by Arizona's Robbie Ray on Tuesday at PNC Park, the Pirates find themselves just four games behind first-place the Milwaukee Brewers.

Pittsburgh will try to close the gap in the rubber match of their three-game set with the Diamondbacks on Wednesday.

Arizona right-hander Zack Godley will oppose the Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl.

Godley has been a pleasant surprise replacing the injured Shelby Miller in the rotation, posting a 1-1 record and 1.99 ERA in five starts. Last season he went 5-4 with a 6.39 ERA, starting nine games and relieving in 18 others.

"The fastball command, the down fastball movement, has given him the ability to work deeper into games," Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. "The secondary stuff has been very sharp. The curveball has been sharp, and late and the changeup has been located. He's just locked in."

McCutchen, who is hitting just .217, a far cry from when he was league MVP in 2013, stirred some memories with a game-ending home run on Monday. He hopes to build on the effort.

"Baseball is a crazy game," McCutchen said. "I mean, last year if we're in this situation, at this moment, right now we'd be, what, 15 games out or so."

Referencing the absences of outfielder Starling Marte, who is expected to rejoin the club after the All-Star break when he completes his suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug; and right-hander Jameson Taillon, who had cancer surgery May 8 but already has made one rehab start, Kuhl said, "We're right in the thick of it, and there are pieces we don't even have."

He added, "We've definitely battled some things, but it comes with it in this game. Guys go down and we've had some challenges, but we've been through it before. We're not playing our best baseball yet. Hopefully we'll get heated up."

McCutchen, the subject of trade talks during the offseason, is by far the most prominent underachiever but not the only one. Kuhl was expected to improve on a decent rookie season (5-4, 4.20) but is 1-5 with a 6.29 ERA.

Kuhl said he is working on his arm angle and learning to reduce his velocity, problems that flattened out his sinker.

"Guys can hit 97-plus (mph)," he said. "It's been proven. So, I'm just getting back to what I do best. Creating angle of the ball, moving the ball around."

Kuhl will be facing Arizona for the first time in his career. Godley made one previous appearance against Pittsburgh, allowing a run in two innings as a reliever in 2015.



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