Jake Westbrook's 2013 season has gotten off to a dominant start for the St. Louis Cardinals.
With two impressive outings under his belt, he'll try to carry that success over against a team that has given him trouble when he faces the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night at PNC Park.
The right-hander is 1-7 with a 5.91 ERA in nine career starts against Pittsburgh, with the lone victory coming July 1. He was tagged for seven runs on 11 hits and four walks in five innings in his most recent game versus the Pirates, a 9-0 loss Aug. 28.
The Cardinals (8-5) have won five of six, including a 10-6 victory in the series opener Monday, as they send Westbrook to the mound seeking his 100th career victory.
He is 1-1, though he hasn't given up an earned run in 15 2-3 innings while allowing 11 hits. His shutout in a 10-0 win against the Reds last Wednesday was his first since 2006. The 13-year veteran relied on his sinker as usual, inducing 16 groundball outs from Cincinnati.
"It always means a lot when you can finish what you started," Westbrook said. "The ball was in the zone and really moving a lot. I guess I know when I'm good is when I get a lot of ground balls."
Pittsburgh (6-7) had won three in a row and five of six before Monday's loss, which saw starter James McDonald chased during St. Louis' seven-run second inning.
Five Cardinals recorded a hit in the inning while two others walked.
"I think we really feed off each other," said Allen Craig, who provided a two-run double in the inning. "When one guy has a good at-bat and hits a ball hard I think the next guy, it boosts his confidence and it goes from there."
The Pirates will hope for Jonathan Sanchez to hang around longer Tuesday than McDonald did, but Sanchez hasn't exactly inspired confidence through two starts. Unlike Westbrook, the left-hander is coming off an abysmal showing in which he gave up a career-high nine earned runs and eight hits in 3 1-3 innings during a 10-2 loss at Arizona on Wednesday.
Somehow, the poor outing didn't necessarily seem to rattle Sanchez.
"We have 30 starts out of the year," said Sanchez, who is 2-0 with a 4.62 ERA in five starts against St. Louis. "We're going to have bad outings and we're going to have good outings. You've just got to focus on the next one."
Though they were undone by Monday's big inning from St. Louis, the Pirates appear to be making major offensive strides after a troubling start. Pittsburgh totaled eight runs on 21 hits while going 1-5, but has 38 runs on 67 hits while going 5-2 since.
The Pirates had two runners on with one out in the eighth Monday after scoring two runs, but the potential rally ended with two groundouts. They had trailed the Reds 5-0 Sunday before winning, 10-7.
"I like the way we're playing," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The hiccups we've had off the mound have been challenging but we've been able to handle them so far."
Left fielder Starling Marte has a hit in nine straight games, going 18 for 39 (.462) over that stretch with seven RBIs in his last six games.
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