Pirates-Tigers Preview

The Detroit Tigers are starting to feel fortunate they don't have to face Neil Walker very often. They'll be feeling even better once his current visit is done.

Walker will try to continue inflicting damage on Detroit pitching Thursday when he tries to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to their fifth win in six games and first three-game sweep of the Tigers.

After going 4 for 32 over his previous 10 games while dealing with a right hip and core injury, Walker seemed to get his stroke back while going 4 for 9 in three games prior to facing the Tigers.

The second baseman delivered the go-ahead RBI double in the 14th inning of Tuesday's 5-4 victory before finishing with a season-high four hits - including two home runs - in Wednesday's 9-3 win.

He's gone 17 for 40 with four homers over his last nine games against the Tigers.

''We've got a day game (Thursday), so there's not much I can do tonight,'' Walker said. ''But you certainly celebrate a day like this in your mind.''

Starling Marte also homered Wednesday, part of his four-hit effort that matched a career high. Gregory Polanco had three hits and Pedro Alvarez added his 11th homer.

Pittsburgh (44-33), which put up 21 hits for the first time since May 2004, will try to win for the ninth time in its last 13 road games behind Francisco Liriano (4-6, 3.21 ERA).

The left-hander's .189 batting average against is second only to Washington's Max Scherzer (.180) among qualifying pitchers.

Liriano had a 1.52 ERA in six road starts before giving up five runs and a season high-tying seven hits over 5 2-3 innings in a 6-0 loss to the Nationals on June 20. He wasn't sharp again Friday, but wiggled out of trouble in allowing two runs over seven in a 3-2, 10-inning home win over Atlanta.

Liriano is 1-9 with a 6.84 ERA in his last 11 starts versus Detroit, losing his last four. However, he yielded two runs and three hits over six innings in a 5-2 loss at Comerica Park last August before giving up one run and four hits over seven in a 1-0 home loss April 15.

Rajai Davis homered off Liriano to account for the only run in the last matchup. Victor Martinez should be glad to see Liriano again since he's 13 for 28 with a home run and six doubles against him.

Miguel Cabrera, though, is 2 for 15 versus Liriano since the start of 2011. Ian Kinsler is 3 for 20 lifetime in the matchup and Yoenis Cespedes has gone 1 for 12.

J.D. Martinez stayed hot Wednesday with three more hits. The outfielder has gone 6 for 10 with a home run in this series and is batting .365 with 10 homers and 21 RBIs over his last 15 games.

The Tigers (39-38), who rank among the major league leaders with a .276 average against left-handers, hope to avoid their fifth loss in seven games. Kyle Ryan (1-1, 4.56) was supposed to pitch Saturday until a rainout and Justin Verlander's return pushed back his outing.

The left-hander, who has never faced Pittsburgh, allowed three runs over 3 2-3 innings in an 8-5 win at Cleveland in his last start June 22. He also gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning of relief two days later.


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