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Pirates brace for deGrom, Mets

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' offense looks to keep improving, but Pittsburgh has a tough draw in New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom for the opener of a three-game series on Friday at PNC Park.

The Pirates, who are 13th in the National League with a .233 batting average, have been held back by below-average offensive production all season, but that trend might be reversing.

Pittsburgh, averaging 4.23 runs, broke out with 12-5 and 9-4 wins over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

The offensive surge was driven by a number of factors. The Pirates got some production with the long ball, hitting six home runs over the four-game series split with the Braves, their high in a series this season.

They also have some players back from injury.

Adam Frazier and David Freese both came off the disabled list May 12 after recovering from hamstring strains. Frazier is hitting .442 with 10 RBI in the leadoff spot since his return.

Outfielder Gregory Polanco, who also has been on the DL due to a hamstring strain, will rejoin the starting lineup Friday after being reinstated Thursday.

The Pirates have also seen some of their more established players start to break out of early-season funks. John Jaso is hitting .236 in May after seeing his batting average bottom out at .143 on the first of the month. Francisco Cervelli has also brought his numbers around, hitting .283 in May after posting a .203 mark in April.

Even so, it might be tough sledding Friday against deGrom (3-1, 3.56 ERA). The Mets fireballer is averaging 12.29 strikeouts per nine innings -- the best mark in the NL and the third best in baseball. Through four starts in May, deGrob is averaging eight strikeouts and has three wins and two no-decisions in his last five starts.

It'll be a test of strength versus strength as the strikeout-averse Pirates have been fanned only 19 percent of the time -- third-lowest in the majors. DeGrom has made four career starts against the Pirates and is 0-2 with a 2.49 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.

The Mets pushed deGrom's start back a day because of rain that turned out to be a steady mist Thursday. The team was going to have to use a spot starter at some point this week because Tommy Milone is on the disabled list with a sprained left knee.

With weather threatening in Queens on Thursday, manager Terry Collins went with Rafael Montero as a spot starter in order to make sure deGrom would be available for a full outing. New York wound up losing 4-3 to the San Diego Padres.

"One thing we didn't want to have to do was get him warmed up, sit him down, wait, have him pitch two innings, get to 30 pitches and then have to shut him down," Collins told MLB.com. "We're not in a situation to do that right now. We were struggling for a pitcher on Saturday anyway, so we decided to push him back a day."

The Mets will be looking for some length from deGrom to help out the stretched-out bullpen, which won't have the services of Montero to start the series.

Chad Kuhl (1-4, 5.85 ERA) will start for the Pirates. The sinker specialist is coming off his best outing of the season, when he allowed one hit in five innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. Kuhl has never faced the Mets.

"You're going to try to stay in good habits," Kuhl said after that start. "Sometimes you fall into bad habits without realizing it. You try and stay with it, stick with it and hammer it in the flat ground and bullpen (sessions)."

The Pirates and Mets meet again next weekend in New York.

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