On a staff that includes the electric Gerrit Cole, no member of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation has been better than A.J. Burnett.
Following his first rough outing of the season, Burnett will look to regain his top form Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants.
Pittsburgh (27-24) opened its series in San Francisco (30-23) on a high note behind Cole, who threw seven innings and allowed five hits and two unearned runs while striking out nine.
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Andrew McCutchen hit a pair of sacrifice flies, Neil Walker’s two-out, two-run double gave Pittsburgh the lead for good in the fifth and Chris Stewart had three doubles in the Pirates’ ninth win in 11 games. It was Pittsburgh’s first meeting with the Giants since its 8-0 loss in last season’s NL wild-card game.
"We were able to play through a lack of execution and got a big swing of the bat from Walker," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Then we pitched the innings we needed to pitch and made the rest of the plays."
Burnett (5-1, 1.81 ERA) can win his sixth consecutive start after the Pirates’ bats helped keep his streak alive Thursday in San Diego. The right-hander gave up five runs in 5 2-3 innings of an 11-5 win after previously not allowing more than two in any start and owning a 1.37 ERA in 59 innings.
After getting a total of five runs of support in his first five starts, Burnett has been backed by a whopping 35 in his last five.
He hasn’t gotten any help from his offense in his last two outings against the Giants, losing 4-0 in his latest visit to AT&T Park with the Pirates in 2013. He pitched eight shutout innings last season with Philadelphia before the Phillies went on to lose 3-1.
San Francisco, which has dropped three straight for the first time since its eight-game slide in mid-April, will turn to Chris Heston (5-3, 3.82). Like Burnett, Heston has also been the beneficiary of a productive offense, enjoying a 9.38 run-support average in his last four starts, all Giants wins.
He received only one run Thursday, but tossed 7 1-3 scoreless innings before the Giants’ offense against exploded late in a 7-0 home win over the Braves. Heston, who joined the rotation in the place of the injured Matt Cain, has a 2.16 ERA at home compared with a 5.79 on the road.
"He’s done a nice job," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Filling in for Cain, he’s stepped in and thrown the ball well. What’s impressed me about this kid is that he’s had a couple outings that haven’t gone so well, but he’s bounced back and been able to put those games behind him."
McCutchen is 27 for 67 (.403) in his last 17 games against San Francisco with 15 runs and nine extra-base hits. The former MVP is hitting .381 since May 7, and is 9 for 19 with five RBIs in his last six.