Francisco Liriano (2-0, 1.64 ERA) starts for the Pirates against noted Bucco-slayer Jeff Samardzija (2-5, 3.49 ERA) who takes the mound for Chicago. In the NL Central, Pittsburgh remains in third, two games back of St. Louis while Chicago is now 10.5 games back and sits in fourth place.
–Jeff Samardzija starts for the Cubs tonight, a pitcher whom the Pirates just haven’t been able to figure out since he entered the league as a reliever in 2008. Samardzija has thrown 39 innings against the Bucs in 14 outings—including three starts—and owns a 4-0 record with a 0.92 ERA against the Pirates. Samardzija’s win total is his most against any team he’s faced, and his ERA is the lowest against any team. Despite Samardzija’s numbers, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle maintains a positive outlook entering tonight’s game.
“He’s been nails against us. Forget about the starts, look at the reliever numbers I mean all the numbers it just hasn’t been good,” Hurdle said. “So we’re due, that’s where I go with it and that’s what I tell my guys—we’re due. See him up, get a good pitch to hit, hit it hard where it’s pitched.”
–As a result of Samardzija’s success against the Pirates, Bucco hitters have very little against him. Of Pirates who have batted against Samardzija, hitters have an aggregate batting average of just .150 (12-for-80) with one home run. Andrew McCutchen is the only Pirate to enjoy some success against Samardzija, hitting .308 (4-for-13).
–Opposing Samardzija tonight is Francisco Liriano, who makes his third start of the season for the Pirates after his return from the disabled list roughly two weeks ago. Through two starts, Liriano is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA as a result of just two runs allowed in 11 innings pitched. Liriano’s struck out 16 batters and allowed just five walks, while receiving 19 total runs of support from the offense in his two starts.
–The Pirates’ comeback win last night was their 14th of the season, and represents over half of their 27 wins this season. The 14 comeback wins are also more than any other team in the big leagues, and derive from a mindset Hurdle said the players entered spring training with.
“I think the mindset was developed after the last month of the  season. I think the guys came to spring with a little bit of a rock in their shoe, and rightfully so,” Hurdle said. “We moved on past it but I think there’s times you need to hold on to that angst, you need to find a way to keep fighting back.”
–Starling Marte is back in the starting lineup tonight, playing left field and hitting lead-off. Marte did not start last night as a result of the day off Hurdle wanted to give him before McCutchen’s knee issues Sunday, but entered as a defensive replacement in left field and singled in his only plate appearance.
–There are no real “shake-ups” in tonight’s batting order, just Jordy Mercer starting in favor of Clint Barmes at shortstop. Barmes recorded Pittsburgh’s first hit last night in the fifth inning, but Hurdle pulled him in the sixth in favor of Snider—a move that worked out pretty well. Mercer replaced him at short, and hit a double following Snider’s grand slam. Barmes is 0-for-9 against Samardzija in his career, while Mercer has never faced Chicago’s ace.
–On the rehabilitation front, Charlie Morton made a rehab start in Double-A Altoona. Morton threw 80 pitches in four and two-thirds innings, and allowed two runs on four hits, two walks, and struck out three. Hurdle said Morton will make another start Sunday in Buffalo with Triple-A Indianapolis where he will throw six innings at 90 pitches, and then a final one May 31 at Columbus where he will throw seven innings at 100 pitches. When Morton returns from injury, Jeanmar Gomez will likely be relegated back to bullpen duty while Morton slides into the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
“I got the report from Stan Kyles, it was a four-pitch mix. He looked increasingly more comfortable, the stamina was good. Fastball velocity continues to be something I haven’t seen a lot of, I’ve seen Charlie 90-93 [miles per hour] and I’m getting 90-96, so that top-end number is unfamiliar territory for me. The ball’s still sinking, he threw some cutters, he threw some change-ups, some curveballs. So it was another productive outing for Charlie.”
–Other injured starters made progress, with James McDonald throwing a bullpen session yesterday about which Hurdle said “so far, so good.” “He’s scheduled to throw another one here, there were no repercussions today, he didn’t feel anything that set him back. So another side on Friday and then we’ll script something out if that goes well.”
Jeff Karstens is working through his right shoulder inflammation, and Hurdle said the team will “script” his return later this week. Karstens threw 60 pitches in Altoona Saturday.
1. Starling Marte LF
2. Travis Snider RF
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Garrett Jones 1B
5. Neil Walker 2B
6. Russell Martin C
7. Pedro Alvarez 3B
8. Jordy Mercer SS
9. Francisco Liriano P
1. Julio Borbon CF
2. Starlin Castro SS
3. Anthony Rizzo 1B
4. Alfonso Soriano LF
5. Scott Hairston RF
6. Welington Castillo C
7. Cody Ransom 3B
8. Darwin Barney 2B
9. Jeff Samardzija P