Wins used to be easy to come by for Gerrit Cole, but suddenly Pittsburgh's ace can't buy one during a stretch in which his team hasn't lost very often.
The Pirates have won 15 of 22 and will try to get Cole his elusive 15th victory on Saturday against Mike Leake and the visiting Giants.
Cole (14-7, 2.61 ERA) has three of Pittsburgh's six losses in August and has been stuck on 14 wins since July 26. He missed four chances to become baseball's first 15-game winner and will now try to tie the league's high-water mark.
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Opponents are hitting .300 against Cole this month and he's posted a 4.70 ERA in four starts. That stretch without a win ties a career-worst drought set from April 15-May 2, 2014.
But there is good news.
Cole snapped last year's drought with a 4-3 home win over the Giants, a team he's 3-0 against with a 2.11 ERA in his first three years with the Pirates (72-48).
The right-hander held the Giants (66-56) to two unearned runs in seven innings of a 4-3 road win June 1.
That victory was part of six straight for Cole from May 22-June 18, and to get back to that level he'll have to come out of the gates better. Three of the first seven Diamondbacks he faced Monday drilled balls off the PNC Park wall for extra bases, accounting for a third of the hits he allowed over 6 2-3 innings in a 4-1 loss.
Batters are hitting .293 in the first inning off Cole and .238 after that.
"If you don't come out locating the ball early, they're going to punish you," Cole told MLB's official website.
This is the fourth time Cole and Leake (9-6, 3.52) have squared off this season, with Leake's team winning the first three. But the former Cincinnati right-hander will be wearing a different uniform for this one.
Leake is making just his second start for the Giants after spending the past two weeks on the shelf with a strained left hamstring. He gave up two runs in 6 1-3 innings of his San Francisco debut, a 2-1 loss at Texas on Aug. 2.
Leake is 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts against the Pirates since last season's All-Star break, and he's 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in his last seven in Pittsburgh.
Three of the four hitters Leake has faced most in his career are Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, who have combined to hit just three homers in 158 at-bats. Not far behind in terms of seeing Leake is Aramis Ramirez, who's 6 for 36.
Marlon Byrd homered in his first at-bat with the Giants on Friday night, then later singled and doubled in a 6-4 win that snapped San Francisco's four-game losing streak to the Pirates.
Much like Leake, the Pirates are familiar with Byrd from his days in Cincinnati and they can't like what they've seen. The outfielder is hitting .361 with six homers and 14 RBIs in 14 games against Pittsburgh this season. Two of those long balls came among his six hits in 11 at-bats against Cole.
''He probably wanted to make a good first impression,'' San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. ''He did more than that. It's something we need.''
Josh Harrison went 0 for 2 and was hit by a pitch in his first action for the Pirates since undergoing thumb surgery in early July.
Starting pitcher Chris Heston, second on the Giants with 11 wins, was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento to make room for Byrd. Bochy said the move "gives him a little breather" before the rookie gets called up when rosters expand Sept. 1.