Andrew McCutchen's .446 average against lefties is the best in the Majors by a wide margin, and the All-Star outfielder is a big reason why the Pirates are 10-2 this season when facing left-handers at home.
He heads into the final series before the All-Star break leading the National League with a .356 batting average, and the reigning NL Player of the Month for June's 0-for-3 performance Thursday followed a five-game stretch in which he went 14-for-21 with 11 runs -- the first Pirate since Honus Wagner in 1904 to accumulate such numbers.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle coached Josh Hamilton in Texas and was George Brett's teammate in Kansas City, so he's no stranger to greatness at the plate.
"I saw Hamilton get 49 hits in one month, I saw Brett hit .390 for a whole season, and he could have hit .450 for all the hard balls he hit for outs," Hurdle said. "But watching McCutchen is fun, because it's our guy. He's playing the game the best he's ever played. He's never not fun to watch. Guys are feeding off him."
Zito will be tasked with not only bucking the trend of visiting southpaws at PNC Park, but also the Giants' fortunes after a three-game sweep at the hands of the Nationals. Zito enters the game having only given up one earned run in 13 innings in his last two starts.
In his last outing, Zito held the Reds to one run in six innings despite handing out six walks in the Giants' 2-1 loss on June 30.
"It was a good effort," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said afterward. "He got off a couple innings there and battled himself. He threw six innings and gave up one run -- that's a great job."
Erik Bedard will start against the Giants for just the second time in his nine-year career. The 31-year-old left-hander allowed two unearned runs in 5 2/3 innings on June 12, 2004 while he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
Having won eight of their last nine games, the Pirates will look to Bedard and the rest of the pitching staff to keep up their quality work at home to continue their winning ways. The Pirates' home 2.39 ERA is tops in the NL, followed by the Giants' 2.42 ERA at AT&T Park.
San Francisco ranks 14th in the NL with a 4.73 road ERA, while Pittsburgh ranks 12th with a 4.65 ERA away from PNC Park.
"You always have a better sense of comfort at home," Bochy said. "That goes without saying."
Giants: Sanchez has season-ending surgery
Freddy Sanchez underwent surgery Thursday to partially remove a disk from his back, meaning the injury-plagued second baseman won't be returning to the Giants this season.
Sanchez was originally sidelined after dislocating his right shoulder against the Reds on June 10, 2011, before his back problems.
"We still remain optimistic that we can have him," Bochy said. "But this is a definite, now, that he won't be back this year."
Aubrey Huff's rehab assignment has been interrupted with soreness in his right knee. He was expected to serve as Class A San Jose's designated hitter on Thursday, but stayed out after aggravating his sprained right knee a day earlier while running the bases in his first rehab assignment game. Huff originally sustained the injury while celebrating Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13.
Pirates: Presley placed on seven-day DL
Alex Presley was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list Thursday after getting injured during a diving-catch attempt in Tuesday's game against the Astros.
"We're all better served by doing this," Hurdle said. "It's a smart move to give him more time. It was the appropriate move after we got some feedback."
The Pirates called up shortstop Jordy Mercer to take Presley's roster space.
Though they didn't need to showcase it during Thursday's 2-0 win against the Astros, the Pirates are among the best in baseball for coming from behind. Their 23 comeback wins this season ranks third most in baseball.
"I think we just keep it in mind that, you know, there's still innings to play. You never know what can happen," Hurdle said.
The Pirates' four-game sweep of the Astros was just the fourth such sweep the Pirates have had at PNC Park. The Giants have now been swept just twice this season after Thursday's 6-5 loss to the Nationals.
The Giants enter the series third in the NL in stolen bases with 38, while the Pirates are second to last with 21.