Pittsburgh opens a crucial three-game series against St. Louis on Friday at Busch Stadium to begin a six-game road trip. The Pirates went 4-7 on their season-long 11-game homestand, but they ended it on a positive note with a 10-6 win over the Dodgers on Thursday.
The Pirates are 28-30 on the road in 2012, but have won eight of their last 12. Even though Pittsburgh is 3-7 in its last 10 games manager Clint Hurdle thinks his team can turn things around on the road.
"I've seen that happen, as a coach, player and manager," Hurdle said. "There are times, you know, you go, 'Whew, let's get out of here, try something new, this hasn't been working, let's see how things go someplace else.' It doesn't always work, but I've been part of it when it has."
James McDonald is scheduled to start on Friday. Over his past four starts, he's lost twice and is 1-2 with an 8.71 ERA since the All-Star break. McDonald got extra time between starts to work on things in a couple of side sessions, and pitching coach Ray Searage thinks that could benefit the right-hander.
"He's right on track. We'll see what Friday brings," Searage said. "It's not so much pitch selection, it's execution of that pitch and locating that pitch. That's what we've been misfiring with every now and then, but they've been in key situations."
The Cardinals are 5-4 against their National League Central rivals this season, including a 3-3 mark at Busch Stadium. St. Louis trails Pittsburgh by one game for the second Wild Card spot. Still, the Cardinals' focus remains on catching the Reds, who lead them by seven games in the division.
"Our goals we set out the beginning of the season, one of our goals was to win the Central division. We're not backing off of that," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
St. Louis just missed out on a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks to open a nine-game homestand, giving up two runs in the ninth to lose, 2-1, on Thursday. The Cardinals are 5-5 over their last 10 games and 9-6 in August.
This weekend's series is the final between the two clubs at Busch Stadium this year.
Pirates: Hughes, Navarro join club
Right-hander Jared Hughes was back with the Pirates on Thursday, just four days after the reliever was optioned to Triple-A. He replaced Chad Qualls, who was placed on the three-day bereavement list because of a family illness.
Infielder Yamaico Navarro was also recalled from Triple-A to take the spot of left-hander Jeff Locke, who was optioned to Indianapolis.
Navarro was on the Opening Day roster, but hit .178 in 25 games for the Pirates before he was sent down at the end of May.
"He wasn't getting the at-bats I'd hoped would be there for him," Hurdle said. "So we felt, you know what, he's still of age . We need him to be playing to get better. That's the reason he was sent down.
"He went through some challenges [in Indianapolis], and they've been addressed. He understands what's at stake for him personally and professionally with this callup, the importance of this opportunity at this point in his career with this organization."
Navarro hit .275 with 24 extra-base hits in 200 at-bats in Indianapolis.
Hughes made 47 appearances with the Pirates earlier this year, going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA.
Cardinals: Westbrook on a roll
Jake Westbrook is on track to make his fourth start against the Pirates on Friday. He is 1-2 against Pittsburgh this year with a 4.74 ERA. He's gone at least six innings in each of his last 12 outings, and the right-hander is 5-0 with a 2.94 ERA over his last five starts.
Westbrook beat the Bucs on July 1 at home. He allowed four runs on nine hits over six innings in that start, a 5-4 victory for the Cardinals.
The sinkerballer is coming off one of his best outings of the year on Saturday, tossing 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Phillies.
"Jake was as good as I think we've seen him," Matheny said after that outing. "You could tell his sinker was really falling off the table. Lots of ground balls and lots of action for the guys that made the plays."
Yadier Molina was out of the lineup for the second straight game on Thursday, the result of tightness in his back. The catcher will be re-evaluated on Friday and it's uncertain if he will be able to play against the Pirates.
"He's better today, still not able to go today, still tight," Matheny said before Thursday's game.
Molina is hitting .312 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs in 101 games this season.
With six RBIs Thursday, Garrett Jones joined Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and the injured Neil Walker to make the Pirates the second NL team with four players who have driven in 60-plus runs. They were beaten to that distinction by a couple of days by the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, David Freese and Allen Craig.
Craig is 3-for-8 in his career against McDonald with one home run, one double and two RBIs.