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Hammel fans nine through six frames

Sunday's series finale between the Pirates and Cubs will feature a matchup between one ultra-consistent pitcher and one who's broken his streak of steadiness as of late.

The consistent one is Pittsburgh right-hander Brandon Cumpton, who has thrown between five and six innings and allowed four earned runs or less in five of his seven starts this year. Other than a 10-run glitch against the Dodgers on May 31 that sent his ERA soaring, Cumpton has been a steady presence for the Bucs.

"There have been some impressive things as far as him being in games and fist fights sometimes," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "What will make it easier for him is the evolution of a secondary pitch, and becoming more consistent with it. It could be the slider, or the changeup.

"He's had to roll his sleeves up, every outing that he's pitched - -which he's done very well and professionally. Like that guy who punches the time clock at 9, and punches out at 5. You do know what you're going to get from him."

Opposite the young Cumpton will be veteran Jason Hammel, who has been extremely solid this year but has slipped up in his last two starts, allowing four earned runs in each.

One of those starts came against the Pirates on June 11, which he lost. He allowed four earned on 11 hits in five innings with six strikeouts and two walks. In three starts against the Bucs this season, he's 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.

His last time out, Hammel needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning against Miami but gutted it out to make it through six innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. In that first inning, Giancarlo Stanton hit a ridiculous laser shot just over the wall in right. 

"There were definitely too many pitches in the first inning," Hammel said. "I could not get the slider down. That was the ball that Stanton hit. I've never seen a home run like that. That thing took two seconds to get out of the ballpark. I thought it would be a foul ball and hit the base of the wall or something.

"It was a line drive -- I just didn't think it had 400 feet of carry on it," Hammel said. "He's a strong boy."

Against Pittsburgh on the 11th, Hammel gave up a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen in the first, which snapped a streak of 51 2/3 innings without allowing a home run, dating to April 22. Look at it this way: he allowed three solo homers to the Pirates on April 9, then one homer in each of his next two starts. He then went eight straight starts with surrendering a long ball before McCutchen's shot, and has surrendered one in each of his last two starts. 

Pirates: Marte leaves to attend to personal matter
The Pirates will be without one of their hottest hitters at least for the next two days, as left fielder Starling Marte left the team to attend to a personal matter in his Dominican Republic home.

Marte rushed off Saturday morning, and he'll miss Sunday's series finale against the Cubs.

Manager Clint Hurdle anticipates he'll return Monday. The Pirates will be in Tampa Bay on Monday beginning a three-game Interleague series against the Rays.

Cubs: Epstein confident in Almora's potential for long-term success
Like several other highly-regarded Cubs prospects, Albert Almora made a splash upon his debut in pro ball.

Chicago's first-round Draft choice in 2012 out Mater Academy Charter School in Florida, Almora hit .321/.331/.464 and the organization's lowest two levels that year. He followed that up with an impressive 2013, in which he hit .329/.376/.466 for Class A Kane County.

Almora has struggled this season, however, posting a .243/.266/.320 line in 64 game for Class A Advanced Daytona. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is nonetheless confident the 20-year-old center fielder will succeed in the long run.

"We're going to look back at this as a great developmental year for Albert," Epstein said. "It's a great example of when I say development isn't always linear. I think a lot of us feel Albert might be the best pure hitter we have in our system. We trust Albert to go out and hit in the long run as much as anybody in our system.

"This is the first time in his life he's ever struggled and he's dealing with it really well. He's not backing down at all and he's continuing to work really hard." 

Worth noting
• With a win Sunday, the Cubs would win their third straight series, the first time they've done that since June 21-30 of last season.

• The Pirates are 7-1-1 in series at Wrigley Field since the start of 2011. On Sunday, the Pirates are looking to win their fourth straight road series after losing the previous seven.

• Pedro Alvarez had 32 homers in day games in 2012-13 -- earning himself the nickname Day-dro. He has 1 in 26 day games this season (also hasn't homered in 54 at-bats, since June 3).

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