The Pirates got the best of the Cubs in the first two matchups of the year between Charlie Morton and Edwin Jackson, but the circumstances will be a bit different going into Monday's matchup.
Morton faced Jackson in his first two starts of the season on April 2 and 8. The Pittsburgh hurler received a no-decision in each start, but pitched his team to victory both times, throwing six scoreless innings the first time before giving up five runs over six in the next start, an eventual 7-6 win.
Coming into Monday's game, Morton, along with the rest of the Pirates' rotation, has been a little out of sorts. The right-hander was originally supposed to pitch Sunday, but got pushed back into Monday's series opener against the Cubs.
It was an intentional move, according to manager Clint Hurdle, who said: "Based on Charlie's last effort, it gives him a chance to refine delivery, refocus on commitment to sinker."
Morton is a sinkerball pitcher, but he hasn't been getting the kind of results and groundouts he's used to. Morton actually had a season-best nine strikeouts in his last start, but pitched just five innings because his pitch count was at 98.
Morton induced an average of 11.6 groundballs in his first nine starts (his season-best is 15), but in his last three outings, that number is eight. The seven he got against the Padres matched a season low.
"You know it's not working, you know it's not in play when he's at 100 pitches in the sixth inning," Hurdle said. "He's had to go other ways to try and get you outs. We know he's capable. He's done it before. He has to find his way back and recalibrate."
Jackson, on the other hand, seems to be gaining some stability after a shaky start. Though he still has a 4.59 ERA, he's allowed only three runs in 10 1/3 innings over his past two starts.
"It's not that I'm a different pitcher, it's just a matter of making pitches," Jackson said. "You can go out and feel great and get hit. You can go out and feel bad and have a good game. At the end of the day, it's just about making pitches. The first game, I gave up one run, and the second time, they came in super aggressive. It's just a matter of executing pitches."
Jackson will be backed by a Cubs lineup that's improved as of late. Chicago won five straight games, a season high, before falling to Miami on Sunday.
Cubs: Castro bounces back with extra work sessions
After going 0-for-5 against Miami on Friday, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro asked hitting coach Bill Mueller to give him some extra work on the field before Saturday's same. It seemed to work, as Castro hit three doubles in eight at-bats over Saturday and Sunday.
"I don't care if I go 0-for-4, 0-for-5, I want to keep my feeling," Castro said. "That's the only thing I try to do now is don't lose my feeling -- I try to feel good every time."
Cubs manager Rick Renteria was happy to see Castro be proactive.
"A player doesn't want to go out and fail," Renteria said. "They want to perform. They don't like being booed or looked upon that they've failed in a task.
"That's part of his growth and part of him growing up. I would say he's been proactive his whole career. But you have to know how to be proactive and know what to look for. As instructors, we need to know what to ask of the players."
Pirates: Struggling Marte returns to lineup
After dropping out of the starting lineup for four straight games, outfielder Starling Marte returned on Sunday and continued to struggle, going 0-for-3 with a walk in the seven hole.
Heading into Monday, Marte has one hit in his last 25 at-bats, dropping his average 25 points in that span. After Sunday, his average has dropped to .230.
"I don't think you're going to hand-pick a perfect day," Hurdle said of Marte's return. "You just need to choose a day, run him out there and go. I do want to give an opportunity to get our playmakers back on the field. He's a playmaker. He's a difference maker."
• Cubs pitchers have held opponents to a Major League-low 38 home runs this season. Meanwhile, the Pirates have homered in five of their last seven games.
• Chicago has struggled on the road this season, going 10-21 in games away from Wrigley Field. Pittsburgh has been slightly above-average at home at 17-14.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.