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SD@PIT: Worley strikes out seven, limits one run

A little more than a week ago, the Pirates had hit a roadblock. They had lost seven straight and fallen to third place in the National League Central, seven games back.

But six wins in the next eight contests have provided more optimism, as the Bucs have shrunk their division deficit to three games and are now 1 1/2 games out of the second NL Wild Card berth.

The Pirates are well aware that they sit within striking distance of their second consecutive playoff appearance, but they also know they cannot overcome these deficits all at once.

"We can't win 20 games from just playing one," reigning NL Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen said. "We have to win today, that's what it's all about."

The next "today" belongs to Vance Worley, who takes the hill on Saturday hoping to overcome the early-inning woes he has experienced in his past three turns. The opposition tagged him for a combined 11 runs in the first two frames of each of those outings.

After allowing only three earned runs in a four-start stretch from July 22 to Aug. 13, Worley gave up at least that many in each of his past three trips to the hill.

Most recently, he surrendered a season-high 12 hits to the Brewers on Sunday, when he allowed four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. In the first and second innings, he retired the first two batters before giving up four straight hits.

"You don't see that very often -- two outs, then four hits in back-to-back innings. But it all goes back to rhythm," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He found it in the third."

Opposite Worley, who has not faced Cincinnati since August 2012, will be Alfredo Simon, who snapped a string of disappointing outings by limiting the Braves to one earned run in seven innings on Sunday. Simon had lasted only 5 1/3 innings or fewer in each of his previous four starts, compiling a 6.64 ERA during that stretch.

"I threw a lot of good pitches down and away today, and I got a lot of ground balls," Simon said after beating Atlanta. "I needed the win."

Reds: Dominating non-Cardinal NL Central rivals
Friday night's loss to the Pirates puts the Reds in a tough spot as they try to maintain their stellar 11-1-1 series record against the Bucs, Brewers and Cubs this season. Meanwhile, they are winless in four series against the Cardinals.

The Reds claimed each of the previous four series they played against the Pirates in 2014 and have gone 27-16 against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Chicago while compiling a 3-9 mark against St. Louis.

Pirates: Performing in port
After defeating the Reds, 2-1, on Friday night, the Bucs are one victory from winning their ninth series in the past 11 at PNC Park. They have also won 10 of their past 13 series at home.

The Pirates are 15-6-1 in home series this season and must win seven of their next 11 games at PNC Park to match last year's home record, 50-31.

Worth noting
• Cincinnati leads the Majors in one-run losses, with 32.

• Pittsburgh starters have a 2.42 ERA in 52 innings in their last eight games, including only four earned runs allowed in the past 31 1/3 frames. Comments