After getting knocked around over the first month-plus, the Cincinnati Reds' Homer Bailey appears to have turned a corner.
Bailey's recent success shouldn't come as much of a surprise to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bailey looks to stay undefeated against the recently hot Pirates and help the NL Central-leading Reds bounce back from a rare loss as these division rivals continue a three-game set Tuesday night at PNC Park.
Cincinnati (27-21), which entered Monday having belted 20 homers during an 8-1 run, failed to get anything going against James McDonald in a 4-1 loss.
McDonald threw eight scoreless innings and helped limit Drew Stubbs, Wilson Valdez, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce - Cincinnati's No. 1 thru 5 hitters - to two hits in 19 at-bats.
"He threw a good game against us," manager Dusty Baker said. "We weren't swinging real good against him."
Winners of four in a row, the Pirates (24-24) are .500 for the first time since April 10. Pittsburgh hasn't won five straight since Sept. 17-22, 2010.
"I like the direction we're headed," manager Clint Hurdle said. 'I'm easy to please and hard to satisfy."
The Reds, though, surely feel good about getting back on track behind Bailey. The right-hander has gone 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA over his last three starts while limiting opponents to a .239 average - significantly lower than his season mark of .270.
Bailey (3-3, 4.19 ERA) yielded two runs, four hits, and struck out six in as many innings during Thursday's 6-3 win over Atlanta.
"It's been really fun to watch Homer progress and get better and better as the year is going," catcher Devin Mesoraco told the team's official website. "For me, there is still room in there where he can be even better.
"The thing for him that's coming along is he's throwing everything for strikes. His slider is for strikes. His curveball is for strikes. His split is a good chase pitch. He's always had the fastball, where he can put where he wants. Now with those other pitches, you can't just sit there and get yourself in a good count and wait on a fastball."
Bailey has been superb in this series, going 5-0 over seven lifetime starts while compiling a 1.94 ERA - his second-lowest mark against any club he's faced more than once. Clint Barmes is 1 for 13 against Bailey while Neil Walker is 2 for 11. Andrew McCutchen, though, is 6 for 17 with six walks.
Bailey will be opposed by Charlie Morton (2-5, 4.27). The right-hander dropped to 1-4 this month during Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the New York Mets, giving up three runs and eight hits over seven innings.
"It wasn't necessarily great pitching, just competing," said Morton, who retired the final seven batters he faced.
Morton went 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA and two complete games - including a five-hit shutout - over four starts against the Reds last season but wasn't nearly as sharp during a 5-0 loss May 6. He surrendered all five runs in six innings, and was taken deep by Stubbs and Todd Frazier.
Stubbs has gone 9 for 23 (.391) lifetime against Morton while Bruce is 4 for 15 with two homers.
The Pirates won't have reliever Juan Cruz available after placing him on the restricted list Monday. Cruz, 1-1 with a 1.45 ERA in 20 appearances, returned home to the Dominican Republic to take care of personal business.
Pittsburgh relievers own a 2.54 ERA - second in the NL to only Cincinnati's 2.41 mark.