This August feels a little different than the last one Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen endured.
Not only was last August the beginning of a second-half collapse for the Pirates, but McCutchen hit a season-low .252 during the month. This time around, Pittsburgh is in the thick of the playoff race and McCutchen has carried its offense with a .425 batting average and .524 on-base percentage, both season highs.
The All-Star outfielder kept his tear going on Wednesday with two more hits in the Pirates' 7-1 win over the Brewers, evening its three-game series at PNC Park at a game apiece.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sees the difference in his No. 3 hitter.
"He has another year of maturity as a hitter," Hurdle said of McCutchen. "Last two years, especially last August, teams by this time were pitching around him and pitching him differently. He's taken more walks when they're there. He is overall evolving as a professional hitter."
McCutchen will face off against Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo on Thursday to try and help the Pirates win just their second series out of their last six. McCutchen has hit .292 (7-for-24) against Gallardo in his career with a home run and three RBIs.
Gallardo (9-9, 4.61 ERA) will make his third start since coming off the disabled list from a hamstring injury. In each of his two starts since returning, Gallardo has thrown at least six quality innings against the Reds. In his first start back on Aug. 17, the righty threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings to beat Cincinnati, 2-0, and even his record at 9-9. On Friday, Gallardo took a no-decision after tossing six innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits, while walking two and striking out five in a 6-4 Milwaukee win.
When asked about the three-team race in the National League Central, Gallardo would not commit to one team. With Cincinnati's win over St. Louis Wednesday night, the Pirates climbed to a half-game behind the division-leading Cardinals.
"Honestly, all three of them [the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds] have a pretty good team," Gallardo said. "It's up for grabs."
Gallardo will try to hinder Pittsburgh's chances with a series win against right-hander Gerrit Cole.
Cole (6-6, 3.81 ERA) will be making a second straight start on seven days' rest as the Pirates maneuver him to limit his workload. Cole took the loss in his last start after working around 10 hits to limit the Padres to two earned runs over six innings. He struck out five and walked none.
Thursday will be Cole's 10th start at PNC Park in 14 outings this season. He is 4-4 with a 4.35 ERA at home, compared to a 2-2 mark and 2.73 ERA on the road. Opponents hit .281 off Cole at PNC Park, while they hold a .213 average against him elsewhere.
Pirates: Byrd makes quick impact
Marlon Byrd didn't waste much time settling into PNC Park. In his fourth at-bat with the Pirates, Byrd hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning Wednesday.
Byrd, who lined into a double play in his first at-bat and struck out in his second and third, was acquired from the Mets along with catcher John Buck in exchange for Minor League infielder Dilson Herrera and a player to be named.
Byrd joined the Pirates Wednesday and sent the first pitch he saw -- a slider -- from Brewers reliever Burke Badenhop over the fence in center field for his career-high 22nd home run and first with the Pirates.
Prior to Wednesday's game, Gallardo commented on the Pirates' recent additions.
"I think it just deepens that lineup a little bit more," Gallardo said. "Byrd, he's having a good year, and he's a guy who can hit for power and is a good player all around. Same with Buck -- that's a good addition behind the plate when you also have Russell Martin down there catching."
The right-handed hitting Byrd was in the lineup batting fourth against Brewers left-handed starter Tom Gorzelanny on Wednesday. Byrd entered Wednesday hitting .345/.383/.597 against lefties with seven home runs and 27 RBIs.
Byrd is 3-for-15 lifetime against right-hander Gallardo.
"He's a guy you have to be careful with," Gallardo said. "He's one of those guys who hits the mistakes, and he's got some power."
• Dr. James Andrews examined Wandy Rodriguez on Tuesday and said the left-hander would not need surgery for his forearm issue, and he may be able to throw a rehab outing before the Minor League schedule ends the first week of September.
Hurdle said he was encouraged by reliever Jason Grilli's 25-pitch simulated game he threw Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park. Grilli will rest for two days and, if he continues to feel well, he is scheduled for a rehab outing on Saturday with Double-A Altoona.
Brewers: Henderson settling back in as closer
Since taking over Milwaukee's closer duties with the late-July trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Orioles, Jim Henderson has been on a roll.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander has made 12 consecutive appearances with a save -- a franchise record -- and has allowed just one earned run on six hits in the stretch, spanning 12 2/3 innings. Henderson has walked seven and struck out 17, while holding opposing hitters to a .136 average during the streak.
"He's done a great job. Those kinds of numbers, though, that stuff's misleading," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's great, but it's just opportunity. I like what he's doing. I like that when he gets a save opportunity, he's really pitching well."
• The Pirates enter Thursday 32-21 against the NL Central, while the Brewers are 23-33. Pittsburgh is 43-23 at PNC Park and Milwaukee is 28-39 on the road.
• The Pirates have lost their last five series-ending games entering Thursday's finale.
Kevin Massoth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.