The Pittsburgh Pirates have been slow out of the gates following the All-Star break, but a return home might be just what they need to get going again.
Pittsburgh seeks its ninth home win in 10 games Thursday night when it opens a four-game series with the Washington Nationals.
The Pirates (54-40) won 13 of 16 before the break, but have since lost five of six, all on the road, while being limited to one run four times, including a 5-1 defeat at Kansas City on Wednesday. At PNC Park, though, they've won eight of nine and rank third in the majors with a 32-16 home record. Andrew McCutchen's 1.147 home OPS since May 20 is second to only Miguel Cabrera (1.167), though he's 3 for 31 in his last nine overall meetings with Washington.
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Pittsburgh was outscored 19-3 while being swept by Washington in three games June 19-21 and is trying to end a seven-game losing streak in the series, though all but one of those defeats came at Nationals Park. No team has won eight straight in the series since the Pirates took eight in a row from the Montreal Expos April 9-June 30, 1991.
The Nationals (51-42) have also been shaky since the break, splitting six games and scoring two runs or fewer in each loss, though they rallied for a 4-3 victory over the New York Mets on Wednesday.
Washington could have more injury concerns, though, after third baseman Yunel Escobar left in the second inning with what appeared to be a left hand or wrist issue. X-rays were negative but he was scheduled for more tests.
Escobar's .322 batting average ranks second on the club, and the Nationals are already without Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span.
Pittsburgh gives to the ball to Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.98 ERA), who hasn't started since before the break after being scratched Saturday against Milwaukee with a stiff neck. He threw a bullpen session Tuesday without issue.
He has won once in his last four starts despite a 2.05 ERA, and has received three runs of support or fewer in seven of his last nine outings.
Liriano threw 7 2-3 scoreless innings to win his first career matchup with Washington in 2013, but has lost two meetings since while posting a 7.59 ERA, including a 6-0 road defeat in last month's series.
Bryce Harper is 2 for 3 with a home run against him, and 10 for his last 29 off lefties with three doubles and three homers.
Washington's Doug Fister (3-5, 4.30) is 1-3 with an ERA that mirrors his season mark in five outings since returning from a forearm injury. He gave up four runs and nine hits over five innings of a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday.
This is the first time he's been two games under .500 since August 2012, when he was 5-7 for Detroit, though he finished 10-10.
Fister's had a particularly tough time on the road, compiling a 1-3 record and 5.13 ERA in five games, only winning in a 6 1-3 shutout inning effort against the Mets on May 3.
He boasts a strong track record against the Pirates, though, going 1-1 with a 1.07 ERA in four starts. He's thrown seven innings without allowing an earned run in two of the last three.
Pedro Alvarez and McCutchen are 4 for 7 and 4 for 8 off Fister, respectively.
Teammate Jung Ho Kang is 15 for 33 with eight runs during a nine-game hitting streak.