Morton tries to get Pirates on track vs. Reds

( - Trying to avoid losing more ground in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates turn to Charlie Morton on Saturday night for the middle contest of their three-game set with the Cincinnati Reds.

Morton takes the mound tonight with a 3.10 earned run average on the season, but with just a 5-9 record to show for it.

The right-hander was aiming for a second straight winning start on Monday at St. Louis, but instead took a tough-luck no-decision in a game his club lost 2-0. Morton himself gave up only one hit and walked two over seven scoreless innings, striking out five.

"He had nasty stuff today," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Morton. "Today was all about the sinker."

Morton, 30, holds a lifetime mark of 5-7 with a 4.12 ERA in his career versus the Reds, including a loss on April 23. He gave up four runs -- three earned -- on four hits and five walks over six innings in that one.

Getting the call for the Reds tonight will be righty Mike Leake, who has won four of his last five starts. That includes Monday versus the Chicago Cubs, who he limited to three runs (2 earned) on nine hits and a walk over seven innings of work. Leake also struck out seven, moving to 7-7 with a 3.42 ERA on the year.

The 26-year-old faced the Pirates twice in late April, posting a 1-0 mark and 4.61 ERA. Leake is 6-3 against them lifetime with a 3.40 ERA.

Leake also will be trying to avoid the rash of bad luck to impact his fellow starters over the last two games. Homer Bailey exited Thursday's game versus the Chicago Cubs in the fifth inning due to pain in the patellar tendon in his right knee before Mat Latos had to depart following five frames of work in last night's 6-5 series-opening victory because of lower back spasms.

Latos surrendered three hits and four runs, three of which were earned.

"I was just standing on the mound and got in my ready position like I do waiting for the sign, and it felt like (Zack) Cozart or (Ramon) Santiago came up and stabbed me in the lower back," Latos said. "It was real tight."

Cincinnati went ahead with a three-run eighth inning to win for the sixth time in seven games. Devin Mesoraco hit a two-out solo homer to begin the surge, Santiago tied the game with an RBI hit to center and pinch-hitter Brayan Pena completed the rally with a run-scoring single.

Aroldis Chapman set an all-time major league record with at least one strikeout in each of his last 40 appearances, surpassing the mark set by Bruce Sutter for the Chicago Cubs in 1977. Chapman struck out the side, breezing a 103 mph fastball by a swinging pinch-hitter Matt Hague to end the game.

Pedro Alvarez belted a three-run shot and Andrew McCutchen added a solo blast in the fourth inning for the Pirates, losers in four of their last five games.

Pirates starter Jeff Locke allowed nine hits and three runs -- one earned -- over 6 1/3 innings. The lefty fanned five without walking a batter.

While the Reds sit 1 1/2 games out of first place in the division, the Pirates dipped 3 1/2 games off the pace.

The Reds have won eight of 11 versus the Pirates this season.