Pittsburgh Pirates starter James McDonald followed up one his better starts this year -- a win over the St. Louis Cardinals -- with a forgettable beginning to his most recent outing.

McDonald tries to get off on a better foot on Tuesday evening and get the Pirates back on track as they to avoid falling further behind the Cardinals in the standings.

The right-handed McDonald gets the call for the second contest of this three- game set between NL Central rivals having beaten the Cardinals back on Aug. 17. However, it is the only win for the Pirates hurler in his last six starts.

McDonald logged six scoreless innings in the win over St. Louis, scattering two hits and walking three with seven strikeouts to claim a 2-1 decision. After reliever Chris Resop allowed a run and two hits in two-thirds of an inning, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan combined to toss 2 1/3 hitless innings.

The 27-year-old struggled in his last outing on Wednesday against the San Diego Padres, giving up four runs on five hits and five walks with only two strikeouts in five innings. Three of the runs McDonald allowed came in the first, when he walked the bases loaded.

"I felt like I was getting better as the game went on," said McDonald. "I was able to get my breaking ball down, my fastball was going where I wanted it to. Just a rough beginning but I felt like I ended strong."

McDonald is still a solid 11-6 with a 3.73 earned run average in 25 games this season and 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in nine career meetings with the Cardinals, including five starts.

St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook took a tough-luck loss when he squared off against McDonald, then saw his offense bail him out in a victory last week.

Against the Pirates, Westbrook had a five-start winning streak end even though he gave up just two runs -- one earned -- over 7 2/3 frames.

The righty quickly returned to the win column on Thursday against the Houston Astros despite yielding five runs over five innings. He got plenty of support in a 13-5 win.

Westbrook, 34, improved to 13-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 25 starts this season, but sits at just 1-6 lifetime versus the Pirates in 12 meetings (8 starts).

The Cardinals took the opener of the set on Monday by a 4-3 margin, with Matt Holliday hitting a go-ahead solo homer in the sixth inning.

"I like opposite-field home runs. It means my swing is in a good spot," Holliday said after driving in his NL high-tying 90th run of the season.

The Cardinals have now won six of seven since losing a 19-inning game to the Pirates on Aug. 19. That has them six games behind the Cincinnati Reds for first place in the NL Central and 2 1/2 games up on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the league's second wild card position.

The Pirates, meanwhile, have lost six of seven since their marathon win and are three games back of the Cardinals.

A.J. Burnett suffered Monday's loss after allowing four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"I wasn't able to have shutdown innings," Burnett said.

Andrew McCutchen drove in a run for the Pirates, who were without second baseman Neil Walker after he was a late scratch due to lower back tightness.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, could have third baseman David Freese back in the lineup tonight for the first time since he hurt his left wrist on Friday.

The Pirates and Cardinals split 12 meetings this season prior to this series.