(Sports Network) - The Colorado Rockies aim for a return to winning - and to maintain feasible contention in the National League playoff chase - when they resume a four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates with game two tonight at PNC Park.
The Rockies entered Thursday's opener having won five of six games and had climbed within 4 1/2 games of the existing wild card lead in the NL, but missed a chance to close the gap even further with a 5-1 loss to the Pirates.
James McDonald (1-1) twirled six shutout innings for Pittsburgh and gave up just four hits and a walk with a season-high eight strikeouts for his first win of the season for the Pirates, who had dropped six of seven. Ronny Cedeno clubbed a two-run home run while Garret Jones added a solo shot.
Troy Tulowitzki went 3-for-4 with an RBI while Jeff Francis (4-4) was touched for five runs on nine hits with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings for the Rockies.
Colorado is third in the NL West, 7 1/2 games behind division-leading San Diego and 4 1/2 in back of the San Francisco Giants, who lead the wild card chase.
Taking the mound for the visitors tonight will be righty Jason Hammel, who's been stuck on seven wins since downing the Padres, 4-2, in July 10.
A former pick of the Tampa Bay, Hammel improved to 7-3 on the season with that victory but is 0-3 in four starts since - though he's pitched seven innings or more in three of those outings.
He tossed 7 1/3 innings and allowed four runs in his most recent start while picking up a no-decision in Colorado's 6-5 defeat of the Chicago Cubs on July 31.
Hammel is 0-1 in two career meetings with the Pirates and is 1-5 in eight starts away from home this season. His lone road win came on June 29 at San Diego.
For Pittsburgh, lefty Zach Duke goes for a second win over the Rockies in 10 days. The Texas-born 27-year-old was a 4-2 winner in a July 27 matchup between the teams at Coors Field after allowing three hits and two runs in six innings.
The triumph raised his career mark against Colorado to 4-2 in six starts and lowered his earned run average against the Rockies to 6.25.
Duke was shelled for seven hits and six runs in five innings of one subsequent start on Aug. 1, dropping a 9-1 verdict to the Cardinals.
He is 2-5 in 10 starts in Pittsburgh.
Though the Pirates took two of three in Colorado from July 27-29, the Rockies have still won six of the last 10 meetings overall.