A trip to Philadelphia usually doesn't turn out well for the Pittsburgh Pirates , but that could turn out differently this year.
The Pirates plan to give Jeff Karstens his first start in two months Monday night as they begin a four-game series against the last-place Phillies.
Pittsburgh (38-33) has dropped 18 of 23 at Citizens Bank Park since it opened eight years ago, and the club hasn't won a series in Philadelphia since taking two of three at Veterans Stadium from April 4-6, 2003.
However, the Pirates begin their seven-game trip with plenty of momentum after winning six of eight to move within one game of NL Central-leading Cincinnati. Pittsburgh is hitting like a first-place team, averaging 5.6 runs in those eight games.
Despite going 0 for 4 in a loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers on Sunday, Andrew McCutchen is batting .469 (15 for 32) with two homers and eight RBIs during that stretch, while Pedro Alvarez is hitting .462 (12 for 26) with five homers and 10 RBIs.
"Different guys are coming through, getting on base and getting big hits," McCutchen told the Pirates' official website. "What we're doing now, hopefully we can continue and keep the momentum going."
The Pirates also have a 2.13 ERA in their last eight games, and Karstens (0-1, 4.50 ERA) will try to continue that run of solid pitching as he makes his first start since April 17 following shoulder and hip problems.
The right-hander was originally slated to make a Triple-A rehab start Sunday, but he will now pitch in place of Erik Bedard , who will move back a day.
"They saw what they saw (during a Thursday bullpen session), and came to the idea that I would start Monday," Karstens said. "I'm happy about it, and will try to keep this team doing what they've been doing."
Karstens will face the Phillies for the second time in 2012. In his season debut April 7, he threw six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 10-inning home win that ended the Pirates' five-game skid in this series.
Philadelphia (34-40) continues its 10-game homestand after losing twice to Tampa Bay on Sunday. The five-time defending NL East champs are in last place in the division, and manager Charlie Manuel is not pleased with the team's 7-15 June record - or with people questioning some of his late-game decisions.
"You guys (the media) ought to sit in the dugout with me and give me all the scenarios," Manuel said. "Like really, I think you should sit down there with us or tweet us (strategy) or something."
Monday's scheduled starter Joe Blanton (6-6, 5.04) needs to do something different after posting a 7.44 ERA in his last seven starts. He has given up at least one homer in each of his last eight outings, allowing three Wednesday during Philadelphia's 7-6 win over Colorado.
The right-hander, 1-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts against the Pirates, will almost certainly be pitching to Carlos Ruiz after Brian Schneider suffered an ankle sprain on a collision at the plate Sunday.
The Phillies won't have Chase Utley (knee) on Monday, but there's a chance the five-time All-Star second baseman could make his season debut as early as Wednesday.
|May 30, 2012||Charlie Morton||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|May 10, 2012||Daniel McCutchen||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|May 10, 2012||Daniel McCutchen||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|May 09, 2012||Erik Bedard||Day-to-Day||Left game - back spasms|
|May 06, 2012||Andrew McCutchen||Day-to-Day||Flu|
|April 18, 2012||Jeff Karstens||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 07, 2012||Freddy Galvis||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|June 05, 2012||Placido Polanco||Day-to-Day||Left game - left index finger laceration|
|June 02, 2012||Jose Contreras||60-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|May 28, 2012||Roy Halladay||15-Day DL||Right latissimus dorsi strain|
|May 16, 2012||Placido Polanco||Day-to-Day||Left knee contusion|
|May 12, 2012||Vance Worley||15-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Aggressive on the basepaths and on the mound was a winning formula for the Philadelphia Phillies
Joe Blanton threw seven effective innings, Jimmy Rollins homered for the fourth time in five games and the Phillies beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-3 on Monday night.
Blanton (7-6) allowed three runs - two earned - and seven hits, striking out eight. Despite a 4.87 ERA, Blanton has more wins than Roy Halladay (4) and Cliff Lee (0) combined.
Spotted a 4-0 lead in the first, Blanton went right after hitters.
"It helps. It allows you to be more aggressive and if you make a mistake, it's OK," Blanton said.
Coming off a disappointing sweep in a day-night doubleheader against Tampa Bay, the last-place Phillies rebounded in the opener of a four-game series with Pittsburgh. They are 15-2 against the Pirates in their last 17 meetings at Citizens Bank Park.
But these aren't the same old Pirates. They entered the game with the best record in the NL since May 25 at 18-9 and were just one game behind Central-leading Cincinnati.
Jeff Karstens (0-2) gave up seven runs - six earned - and 11 hits in five innings in his first start since April 17. Karstens was on the disabled list with hip and shoulder issues.
"It was a matter of not locating," Karstens said. "They hit some good pitches for hits and some bad pitches."
Jose Tabata hit a solo homer for the Pirates and also made two throwing errors in the first inning.
Helped by Pittsburgh's sloppy defense, the Phillies jumped ahead with four runs in the first.
Rollins led off with a double, advanced on Juan Pierre 's sacrifice and scored on Hunter Pence 's looping single to right. Then it got ugly for the Pirates.
Pence hustled from first to third on Carlos Ruiz 's single to right. Ruiz advanced to second on the throw to third and Pence scored when third baseman Pedro Alvarez 's throw to second sailed into right for one error. Ruiz ended up on third when right fielder Tabata's throw home got away for an error.
Ruiz scored on Shane Victorino 's single. Placido Polanco followed with a single to right. Victorino went to third and scored when Tabata's throw bounced away from Alvarez for another error.
"We were aggressive, they started throwing the ball around, starting making mistakes and that helped us get four runs," manager Charlie Manuel said.
Tabata connected off Blanton in the third for his third homer. After Polanco's RBI single for the Phillies in the bottom half, Clint Barmes hit a two-out RBI single in the fourth to cut it to 5-2.
The Phillies went ahead 7-2 in the fourth when Rollins blasted a 3-0 pitch off a billboard hanging from the second deck in right field for his eighth homer.
"He's getting his timing down and swinging pretty good," Manuel said.
Ruiz had three hits to raise his average to .354.
Notes: Phillies five-time All-Star 2B Chase Utley will play for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Tuesday. Utley said it's a "possibility" he could be in the Philadelphia's lineup on Wednesday. If so, Manuel said Utley has "earned the right" to bat third. ... The Phillies placed C Brian Schneider on the 15-day DL with a sprained right ankle and recalled C Eric Kratz from Lehigh Valley to take his place. ... The Pirates optioned RHP Bryan Morris to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room for Karstens. ... Rollins made his sixth error. The three-time Gold Glove shortstop had only seven last year. ... Pirates C Rod Barajas left the game with a bone bruise in his left knee. ... The Phillies have sold out 258 straight games, including postseason. ... Philadelphia's Vance Worley (3-4, 2.78) faces Erik Bedard (4-7, 4.13) on Tuesday night.
Rob Maaddi can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/RobMaaddi