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Reds-Pirates Preview

The Associated Press

The Cincinnati Reds opened their six-game road trip with an easy win over the Pittsburgh Pirates behind a dominant performance from Johnny Cueto.

The Pirates might have an easier time against Mike Leake.

Leake tries to overcome his early-season struggles as these NL Central rivals continue a three-game set Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

The Reds (13-12) moved above .500 for the first time since April 8 with Friday's 6-1 victory, their ninth win in 13 games. Cueto had little difficulty containing the soft-hitting Pirates (11-15), allowing seven hits and no walks in the fifth complete game of his career.

"We haven't done much against him in awhile," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, whose team is batting .234 in the season.

Hurdle's club would seem to have a much more favorable matchup against Leake (0-3, 6.65). Opponents are hitting .326 against the right-hander through his first four turns in the rotation.

"We have to get Leaky straightened out because he's much better than he's pitching," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website.

"He's just finding the heart of the plate sometimes, at the wrong time. This is killing him because this guy is a competitor big time. He'll get it. He'll figure it out. Perhaps, he should try less. He's trying real hard, probably too hard."

Leake yielded six runs - three earned - and seven hits over a career low-tying 3 2-3 innings of a 6-4 loss to Houston on April 27.

"I'm just trying to figure out how to throw strikes and what not to give them to hit," he said.

Leake is 0-4 with a 5.36 ERA in his last eight road outings. He has a 2.65 ERA in six career starts versus Pittsburgh, but only a 1-2 record to show for it.

The Pirates look to get back on track behind James McDonald (1-1, 2.97 ERA). The right-hander earned his first win of the year Monday, giving up three runs and striking out a season-high 10 over 7 2-3 innings of a 9-3 victory at Atlanta.

"He was getting ahead with his fastball. He was throwing his curveball for strikes and for balls so it's hard to tell the difference, which one is which," Braves outfielder Michael Bourn added.

McDonald has had his way with the Reds of late, going 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA over his last four starts in this series.

He'll have to be wary of Jay Bruce, who could be poised for another monster May after leading the majors with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in that month last year.

Bruce extended his hitting streak to seven games with Friday's 2-for-5 effort, including his team-leading eighth homer. He is batting .480 with five homers during his run.

Bruce is 4 for 10 with a homer and a double off McDonald while Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips is 6 for 13.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen could return to the lineup after sitting out Friday with the stomach flu. He is 5 for 16 with a homer lifetime against Leake.

Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who drove in his team's only run in the series opener, is batting .462 with three homers during a seven-game hitting streak.

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