Jason Hammel is quietly putting together an impressive season.
The right-hander not only has the second-best WHIP in the Majors at 0.881, but also has not allowed a run since May 25, carrying a 14-inning scoreless streak with him into Wednesday's start against the Pirates.
Hammel's last two starts were nearly identical. In outings against the Brewers and Marlins, Hammel tossed seven innings and struck out eight batters, keeping his opponent scoreless both times.
The 6-foot-6 righty did not get the win in his last outing after Cubs' closer Hector Rondon surrendered three runs in the ninth, but Hammel has a team-high in wins (6) and also the best ERA in the Cubs' starting rotation -- his 2.53 ERA trumps that of Jeff Samardzija's 2.54 mark by the slimmest of margins.
"Obviously, very confident in my stuff right now, trusting it and having a good game plan," Hammel said after his appearance last Friday. "These right-handed-heavy lineups that I'm getting a lot lately, I have the advantage."
Wednesday will be Hammel's first time facing the Pirates since his first two starts of the season came against the black and gold. Hammel was effective in both starts, combining to allow four runs and strike out 11 in 13 2/3 innings.
Hammel will be opposed by second-year righty Brandon Cumpton, who notched his first win of the season in his last start. Cumpton wasn't dazzling, but went 5 1/3 against the Brewers, surrendering three runs on eight hits and was backed with 15 runs from his offense.
The Georgia Tech product has a 6.51 ERA in five starts this year, but that number is skewed by a lousy outing in southern California, when he gave up 10 earned runs to the Dodgers in 3 2/3 innings on May 31. That start accounts for half the earned runs he's given up in 2014, and in his four other starts, Cumpton has a 3.75 ERA.
Pirates: Liriano may have strained oblique
Left-handed starter Francisco Liriano left his Tuesday start in the fourth inning due to a strained left oblique.
After the game, Liriano said he was set to get an MRI on Wednesday, and manager Clint Hurdle hinted that a trip to the disabled list was likely.
Liriano made 55 pitches on the night against the Cubs, the last of which caused him to walk off the mound and have a trainer join him on the field. After a conversation and some warmup pitches, Liriano decided not to push things, and exited the game after 3-plus innings.
The 30-year-old has been a shadow of his 2013 self this season (1-6 with a 4.60 ERA in 2014 compared to 16-8, 3.02 ERA last year), but his potential long-term absence from the rotation would be another blow to the Pirates' rotation. Gerrit Cole, a righty who is 6-3 with a 3.22 ERA, was placed on the 15-day DL Sunday with fatigue in his right shoulder.
Cubs: Rizzo continues success against lefties
Anthony Rizzo has been hitting left-handed pitching hard all season, but probably not as hard as Tuesday when he nearly put a pitch from Liriano in the Allegheny River.
Rizzo, a left-handed batter, crushed a two-run, first-inning homer to the deepest seats of PNC Park's right-fielder bleachers, his fourth homer and 15th RBI against southpaws this season.
His .333 average entering the night against lefties was tied for third-best in the National League and the 15 RBIs tied him with Ryan Howard for most by a left-handed batter in the NL.
• Starling Marte had his second straight two-hit night Tuesday. Marte has found his way out of a slump against the Cubs, as he was hitless in his last 23 at-bats entering the series.
• The Cubs will go for their third win of the season at PNC Park on Wednesday. A victory would match their win total in Pittsburgh for the 2013 season when they went 3-7.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.