A major obstacle arrives Monday, when Pittsburgh begins a four-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia. The Pirates took two of three from the Phillies at PNC Park to open the season, but they are 15-20 on the road in 2012 and 5-18 at Citizens Bank Park since it opened in 2004.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has been encouraged by his team's recent play, which included 43 runs in a seven-game stretch before the club ran into Justin Verlander in Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Tigers.
"This kind of offense is what I expected from us," said McCutchen, who was 15-for-28 over those seven contests. "Different guys are coming through, getting on base and getting big hits. What we're doing now, hopefully we can continue and keep the momentum going. We have to keep playing hard."
The Phillies, who are nine games out in the NL East, swept a three-game set from the Pirates at home last year. They will send a struggling Joe Blanton to the mound on Monday against Jeff Karstens, who will come off the disabled list to make his first appearance since April 17.
Erik Bedard was scheduled to start until after Sunday's game, when the Pirates announced they would activate Karstens, push the rest of the rotation back a day and send Brad Lincoln back to the bullpen. Karstens (0-1, 4.50 ERA) had been slated to make a rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday but was scratched.
Karstens has dealt with shoulder and hip injuries but called the bullpen session he threw on Thursday, "probably my best all year, since Spring Training."
"They saw what they saw, 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."
Blanton (6-6, 5.04 ERA) has surrendered 17 home runs this season, including 16 in 41 1/3 innings over his last eight starts. He gave up three gopher balls and five runs in seven innings against the Rockies on Wednesday, but thought his numbers in that outing were misleading.
"I felt in control the whole game," Blanton said afterward. "In some other outings when you give up runs, you feel out of control the whole game, you don't know where anything is going and you're making mistakes. I really didn't feel like that tonight. It's baseball. Sometimes you don't have any luck."
Pirates: A bit of versatility
Drew Sutton is a switch-hitter who has appeared at all four infield positions and in the outfield during his four years in the big leagues.
The Pirates added that flexibility to their roster on Sunday, when they claimed the 28-year-old, whom the Rays had designated for assignment on Friday. Pittsburgh briefly held Sutton's rights on May 20, when it acquired him from the Braves, only to send him right along to Tampa Bay.
Sutton, who previously played for the Reds, Indians and Red Sox, posted a .271 batting average and .668 OPS in 18 games for the Rays. The Pirates' only other switch-hitter is second baseman Neil Walker.
Phillies: On the comeback trail
The Pirates might have to deal with Chase Utley during their series at Citizens Bank Park.
The 33-year-old second baseman hasn't played in the Majors this season because of chondromalacia in his left knee but could be activated for Wednesday's game, according to a report from CSNPhilly.com. The report cites an anonymous source and says Utley is expected to return to Philadelphia to finish his rehabilitation assignment, possibly playing with Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Tuesday.
Utley had played in nine games for Class A Clearwater through Saturday, going 5-for-32 with one home run and five RBIs. On Friday and Saturday, he played on consecutive days for the first time during his rehab.
Reliever B.J. Rosenberg was recalled from Lehigh Valley for Sunday's twin bill, in accordance with a new rule that allows teams to expand to 26 players for day-night doubleheaders. Rosenberg likely will be sent back to the Minors before Monday's game.
One of Karstens' three starts this season came against the Phillies on April 7, when he gave up one run in six innings to take a no-decision.
Blanton has logged a 7.44 ERA over his last seven starts. He is 1-1 with a 3.29 ERA in five career games against the Pirates.