The Pittsburgh Pirates will begin a six-game homestand Friday night with a share of the best record in baseball.
The Pirates can extend their longest win streak in nine years to seven games when they send Gerrit Cole to the mound to face the last-place Milwaukee Brewers.Pittsburgh (48-30), tied with St. Louis atop the NL Central, went 7-2 on a trip against Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle. The Pirates hit 13 homers and scored 39 runs during the club's longest win streak since a 10-game run June 26-July 5, 2004."It was a good trip. Very good trip," manager Clint Hurdle said.This three-game set will begin with Hurdle handing the ball to Cole (3-0, 3.44 ERA), the first Pittsburgh pitcher to win his first three starts since Jim Nelson in 1970. The 22-year-old right-hander, who allowed two runs over 6 1/3 innings Friday in a 5-2 win over the Angels, has been quick to credit his teammates for his success."Good defense and good offense, I think," Cole said. "Those guys have been picking me up and it simplifies the game a little bit."Cole beat Jered Weaver in his last outing after outdueling former Cy Young Award winners Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke in his first two.The mound opponent Friday will be less formidable in Johnny Hellweg, who will make his major league debut. Hellweg is getting the start since Alfredo Figaro went on the disabled list Wednesday with a strained right oblique.The 6-foot-9 right-hander got the news of his callup in front of his entire team after Triple-A Nashville returned home from a series in New Orleans that ended Tuesday."I guess that was a feeling I've never had," Hellweg told the Brewers' official website. "It was kind of surreal. I guess the closest I've ever been to floating."Hellweg was 7-4 with a 2.82 ERA for the Sounds, and posted a 4.15 ERA in five spring appearances for Milwaukee (32-45)."The looks we got in spring training was he works quick," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Good stuff with the curveball and the fastball down in the zone, good movement on the fastball. He's got velocity on it."Pittsburgh is 6-4 against Milwaukee this season, with Pedro Alvarez posting team highs of three homers and eight RBIs despite going 5 for 29 with 10 strikeouts overall. Alvarez is hitting .390 with five homers and 13 RBIs during a 10-game streak.Andrew McCutchen is tied with Alvarez with three homers against Milwaukee.Carlos Gomez leads the Brewers in the season series with a .361 average, four homers and eight RBIs. Gomez is expected back in the lineup Friday after missing three games due to a sprained left shoulder suffered in Sunday's loss to Atlanta.Milwaukee split six games on a homestand that ended Thursday, losing the final two against the Cubs by committing four errors that led to six unearned runs."We're getting more consistent offensively, but then we have some miscues like this, we don't bounce out of it and they really hurt us," Roenicke said.The Pirates are 8-0 after scheduled off days.