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PIT@ATL: McDonald strikes out 10 over 7 2/3 frames

After playing as many road games as any team in the National League in the month of April, the Pirates are ready to make the most of a home-friendly schedule in May.

Though the Pirates' nine-game homestand got off to a rocky start with Friday night's 6-1 loss to the Reds, they still have plenty of opportunities to notch some victories at PNC Park. Overall, 18 of Pittsburgh's 25 remaining games this month are at home.

"It's important to string some wins together," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've been scratching and clawing since Opening Day, and don't expect anything different this homestand. We're definitely looking forward to being home for three series. We need to use that to our advantage."

Looking to rebound from Friday's disappointing start to the homestand, the Pirates will call upon right-hander James McDonald, fresh off his first win of the season. McDonald, who enters with a 2.97 ERA, came within one out of a career-long outing Monday, limiting the Braves to three runs over 7 2/3 innings for the victory.

Reds starter Mike Leake, on the other hand, is still searching for that elusive first victory. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA through four starts and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his last outing on April 27.

The most troubling aspect of Leake's struggles for manager Dusty Baker has been Leake's ability to pitch well with the exception of one inning each time he takes the mound. Leake has allowed at least a three-run inning in each of his last three starts.

"He has just had that one bad inning, that's all one bad inning and he's probably overthrown some," Baker said. "He's a pitcher, but he's not a power pitcher, he's got to pitch -- he's a pitcher. He needs to get back to being himself and relaxing and just be natural. Sometimes you can try too hard."

Reds: Phillips feeling more comfortable
Second baseman Brandon Phillips said the bothersome left hamstring that limited him throughout April is almost completely healed.

Phillips went 1-for-5 in Friday's victory and is now just 2-for-17 in his last four games. He's hoping that with the continued improvements with his hamstring, he can soon start to produce more on offense.

"I'm starting to feel my legs a little bit more," Phillips said. "Normally I squat down in my batting stance, and I haven't had the opportunity to do that lately, so I've been struggling offensively, but I've been feeling good, and hopefully I can start coming through for the team and put everything together. I'm glad that my leg is starting to improve, so fantasy people beware."

Pirates: Tabata back in leadoff spot
Jose Tabata turned in one of his best games of the season, Thursday, in his return to the Pirates' leadoff spot. Unfortunately, Tabata followed up that three-hit performance with an 0-for-4 game in Friday's loss.

Tabata was just 3-for-16 in the leadoff spot earlier this season, before Hurdle switched up his lineup. Including his combined 3-for-9 effort in the last two games, Tabata is now hitting .240 at the top of the order this season.

"He's finishing his swings off better, with more power," Hurdle said. "His aggressive swing is back in play. We ran him out there at the top of the lineup [Thursday] and he gave us a spark, so let's see how that plays out. He relishes the No. 1 spot. But you have to be at the point you're getting on base."

Worth noting
• The Reds are one of just two National League teams -- the Astros being the other -- to lose the season series against the Pirates last season. Pittsburgh went 10-5 against the Reds, marking just the second time the Pirates won the head-to-head matchup against Cincinnati since 2004.

• Phillips is 6-for-13 [.462] in his career against McDonald.

• The Pirates have scored one or no runs in 10 of their 26 games this season.

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