PITTSBURGH -- Pirates fans have been showing up at PNC Park and cheering on the home team more than they have in a long time. In return, the Bucs have posted the finest home record in baseball.

Entering Tuesday, the Pirates were 32-15 when playing along the banks of the Allegheny River. In their last 26 games in this city, they're 21-5.

Nobody on the team knows the recent history of the franchise better than Neil Walker, who attended Pine-Richland High School in nearby Gibsonia, Pa.

"We're all comfortable playing at home," Walker said. "We know the elements here. We know it's a tough place to hit.

"Our hitting's been timely. Our hitting's been good over the last couple months. The home-field advantage is what it is. We know if we score four, five, six runs, we've got a pretty good chance of winning here."

The Pirates are on pace to finish with their first winning home record since 2006, when they went 43-38 at PNC Park. As of Tuesday, they were 1 1/2 games behind Cincinnati for the lead in the National League Central.

Walker said not to expect a second half similar to what fans saw in 2011, when the Pirates fell out of contention after a promising first half.

"We're going to keep playing the way we are and keep grinding it out," Walker said. "It's going to be a fun next few months."

Hurdle seeks consistency from corner outfielders

PITTSBURGH -- Throughout this season, the Pirates have played eight left fielders and seven right fielders.

Facing the Cubs and left-handed starter Paul Maholm on Tuesday, the Pirates started Drew Sutton in left and Garrett Jones in right. It didn't take long for Jones to make the decision look smart with a fourth-inning homer.

Sutton took the spot of Alex Presley, who had led off the lineup and played left field in seven straight games. Over his last 10 games, Presley has hit .200 (8-for-40), scoring five runs and drawing three walks.

"You want to do well when you're in there," Presley said. "You try not to put pressure on yourself to prove that you should be playing every day. You just roll with it and do what you can, try to make the most of it when you're in there and root on the guy that's in there for you if you're not playing."

Despite being a left-handed hitter, Presley has hit .283 against southpaws -- much higher than his .230 overall average. The switch-hitting Sutton is batting .314 against lefties.

Jones, actually, was notorious for struggling at the plate against left-handers, but he's performed better lately. Before homering off Maholm, he had five hits in his last 10 at-bats against lefties and was hitting .227 while facing them this season. Until a June 2 single off Houston's Fernando Abad, Jones had been hitless in his most recent 24 at-bats against southpaws.

"He's worked hard," manager Clint Hurdle said of Jones. "It's not so much that he changed his approach against left-handers. It's just the consistent approach every time he steps in the box, with staying tall and holding his position in the box and getting his hands and the barrel out in front of him."

Speaking of consistency, Hurdle said it's something he'd like to see throughout his lineup, including the corner-outfield positions. The manager didn't seem too concerned, though, about the turnover in either spot.

"Performance levels, as they spark or spike or as they falter, you've got to adjust accordingly," Hurdle said. "We knew that there might be some challenges with some personnel, but I think overall we've done the best we can with what we have."

Kendall remembered for gritty style of play

PITTSBURGH -- Former Pirates catcher Jason Kendall announced his retirement from baseball on Tuesday afternoon at the age of 38.

The announcement came at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., where the Royals' Double-A affiliate is located. Kendall played in two games for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals after signing a Minor League contract on Thursday. He missed the final month of 2010 and all of last season after undergoing right shoulder surgery.

Kendall was selected by the Pirates in the first round of the 1992 First-Year Player Draft. Starting in '96, the catcher spent nine years in Pittsburgh, hitting .306 and appearing in three All-Star Games. Kendall ranks fifth in Major League history with 2,025 games caught.

Pittsburgh fans will remember Kendall for his hard-nosed style of play behind the dish and the gruesome right ankle injury he suffered in 1999 while trying to beat out a hit.

Kendall left Pittsburgh after the 2004 season. He spent three years in Oakland, two in Milwaukee and one each as a member of the Royals and Cubs.

"Jason Kendall was old school and played the game right," the Royals' Billy Butler tweeted on Tuesday. "It was an honor to be your teammate. Great career."

Worth noting

• James McDonald, Tuesday's Bucs starter, posted a 1.69 ERA in his first 10 home starts this season. McDonald entered the night having made 32 career starts at PNC Park as a member of the Pirates, posting a 14-4 record and 2.60 ERA.

• The Pirates have won eight straight series at home. They're 13-2-1 in their last 16 series overall.

• At PNC Park, Andrew McCutchen is hitting .392, the highest home batting average in baseball.