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Samardzija, Cubs try to cool off Pirates' McCutchen

(SportsNetwork.com) - Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija will face one of the hottest hitters in the major leagues in Pittsburgh slugger Andrew McCutchen when the Cubs visit the Pirates for the finale of a four-game series on Thursday night at PNC Park.

The National League's reigning MVP, McCutchen continued a recently torrid stretch in Pittsburgh's 4-2 victory in game three, going 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs batted in and a home run.

In 10 June games, he's compiled a .421 batting average with seven doubles, six home runs and 12 RBI.

"I'm just seeing the ball, hitting the ball," he said. "I'm in a spurt where I'm feeling really good right now."

In his last six at PNC Park, McCutchen is batting exactly .500 (11-for22) with nine RBI and eight extra-base hits. He's hitting .438 at home since April 21.

"He's hot," manager Clint Hurdle said. "When he gets his pitch, he's not missing."

Samardzija has allowed 10 hits in 26 at-bats against McCutchen, but he comes in after picking up his second win of the season on Saturday against the Miami Marlins.

The former Notre Dame football player allowed two runs in seven innings in the victory and still has a 2.54 earned run average that's among the best in the NL despite his 2-5 record.

"The best thing as a starting pitcher you can have is consistency - that every time you go out there your coach and your teammates know what you're going to give them," he said. "That's what I want to do."

He's 3-1 in five lifetime starts at PNC Park with a stingy 0.69 ERA.

He's lost three straight decisions to the Pirates overall, however, while getting just two runs of offense. In his last meeting with Pittsburgh, on Opening Day, he tossed seven scoreless innings in a game the Cubs ultimately lost, 1-0, in 10 innings.

The Pirates reply with Edinson Volquez, who was unbeaten in three starts before dropping a 9-3 verdict to Milwaukee on Saturday. He allowed four runs and four hits in six innings in the loss.

"I left a couple of pitches right in the middle of the plate," Volquez said. "I've got to do a better job than that."

He's never lost to the Cubs in nine appearances, which includes eight starts and a two-inning relief outing on April 3.

Volquez is 5-0 with a 3.60 against Chicago, but in his last start against the Cubs he gave up six runs in just two-thirds of an inning while with San Diego in August 2013.

On Wednesday, Brandon Cumpton (2-2) allowed two runs on five hits and two walks over five innings for the Pirates. Jordy Mercer posted three hits and a run scored in the victory.

Jason Hammel (6-4) surrendered four runs on 11 hits and two walks over five frames for Chicago.

The Pirates have won six of nine versus the Cubs this season.