After turning 44, Braves’ Colon takes aim at Pirates

ATLANTA — After struggling for the first four weeks of the season, veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon appears to be rounding back into form for the Atlanta Braves.

Colon (2-4, 6.38) has lowered his ERA nearly a point in his last two starts and will try to continue that trend when he takes the mound in the finale of a four-game series against Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Pirates will counter with right-hander Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63).

Colon, who celebrated his 44th birthday on Wednesday, was signed to a one-year, free-agent deal as a bridge to give some of the organization’s young pitching prospects a chance to mature in the minor leagues. But early results were not pleasant; Colon was 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA after being tagged for eight runs in a loss to Houston on May 9.

He bounced back strong. Colon beat Toronto on May 15 when he allowed two earned runs in five innings and gave up one earned run in 4 1/3 innings against the Washington Nationals on May 20, an appearance cut short by a long rain delay.

“I’m happy with the direction we’re going and I’m happy with the direction we’re pitching,” Colon said after beating the Blue Jays. “I just have to work my butt off to get us where we need to be.”

In his career against Pittsburgh, Colon is 5-2 with a 1.94 ERA in nine starts. He did not face the Pirates when the teams played in April.

Nova will be making his 10th start of the season. He has been the team’s most dependable starter this season and was named National League Player of the Month for April when he went 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA.

Nova has pitched at least six innings in each start and has allowed no more than four runs in any stint.

In his last start, Nova beat the Phillies. He threw 7 1/3 innings and allowed three runs and nine hits.

Nova beat the Braves on April 7 in his first start of the season when he pitched six scoreless innings. He is 1-0 in two career starts against Atlanta and has yet to allow a run in 13 career innings.

“We love it when he pitches,” Pittsburgh third baseman David Freese said. “He pumps strikes.”

The Atlanta bullpen will be back to normal on Thursday. The Braves were unable to use Jim Johnson or Arodys Vizcaino on Wednesday, but both will be available in the series finale.

Atlanta begins a nine-game road trip on Friday with stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Cincinnati.

The Braves are expected to send third baseman Adonis Garcia to Triple-A Gwinnett for a rehab start before he is activated from the disabled list, where he has been since May 16 with left Achilles tendinitis.

“We just want to make sure he plays and roughs it up and is good the next day,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “We want to make sure he’s feeling pretty good.”

Garcia may play three games with the G-Braves.

The Pirates return home Friday to begin a six-game homestand. They will host three-game series against the New York Mets and Arizona.