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CIN@CHC: Leake strikes out six over eight innings

As the Pirates get set to embark on a lengthy road trip, they'll start at the ballpark where the home team -- an division rival -- has had great success this year.

Pittsburgh opens a nine-game road trip with an important four-game set at the Reds' Great American Ball Park. The two teams are in a heated race in the National League Central, each of them chasing the first-place Cardinals.

"I'm not staying up late at night thinking about [the race]," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's the appropriate time to play [the Reds], because that's what the schedule says. We're going in, we've got who we got, and they've got who they got. That's the honest truth. That's how I look at it."

The Pirates have split their last four after winning four of five. The Reds are 24-12 at home, with 11 wins in their last 17 games at Great American Ball Park.

Cincinnati has won nine of its 11 completed home series.

Two front-line starters will duel in the series opener, with Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano (5-2, 2.36 ERA) squaring off against Reds righty Mike Leake (6-3, 2.76).

Leake was dominant in his last outing against the Cubs, surrendering only one run and three hits in eight innings on Wednesday. He has a 4-1 record with a 1.13 ERA in his last six starts.

Liriano, meanwhile, is the "anchor" of Pittsburgh's injury-depleted rotation, Hurdle says. It will be his second career start against the Reds, as he's scattered five earned runs over his last three starts.

"For the most part, his best pitches have been offspeed," catcher Russell Martin said. "But he's used the fastball in normally breaking-ball situations. He's been pitching backwards, and it's been effective, because hitters want to hit the fastball, for the most part, anyway. And when you've got 94 [mph], they've got to honor that. So being able to throw offspeed pitches for strikes has worked for him."

Pirates: All hands on deck
The Pirates have beat the Reds four times this season -- but three of those games were started by players injured and not in the current rotation: A.J. Burnett, Phil Irwin and Jeanmar Gomez (Jeff Locke started the other).

The Pirates have already used 11 starters, one more than all of last year.

"We're always talking about never having too much pitching," general manager Neal Huntington said. "If you'd told anybody on the street in April that we'd be on our 11th Major League starting pitcher, and Jeff Locke would be the anchor left in the rotation in mid-June, I think you'd have won a lot of money if you'd said we'd have won 40 games and been battling for a playoff spot. It's a huge tribute to the guys who've continued to take the ball."

Reds: Votto, Bruce closing in
Outfielder Jay Bruce is one home run shy of Lee May (147) for 16th all-time on the Reds' all-time home run list. First baseman Joey Votto has 144.

• Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo got the day off Sunday, but he admitted that he doesn't really know how to handle the rare occasion.

"I just told him to stay in and rest some, come in late," manager Dusty Baker said of Choo. "I don't think he knows how to."

• Reds pitchers have struck out at least 10 hitters 23 times this year, including 16 times at Great American Ball Park. They have at least 15 strikeouts in a game three times.

Reds hurlers have struck out at least 11 hitters at home 10 times.

Worth noting
• The Pirates are kicking off a 10-day, nine-game road trip in Cincinnati (four games), Anaheim (three) and Seattle (two). It is their second of four three-city trips this year. The Bucs won't play at PNC Park again until June 28.

• Reds outfielder Chris Heisey (strained right hamstring) is expected to join Triple-A Louisville for a rehabilitation assignment on Friday.

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