Considering how dominant Aroldis Chapman has been closing out games for the Cincinnati Reds , A.J. Burnett may need to duplicate arguably his best start of the season to keep the Pittsburgh Pirates in close contention for an NL Central title.
The top two teams in the division conclude their three-game set Sunday in Cincinnati, with the Pirates desperate to avoid a sweep that would drop them 6 1/2 games behind the Reds.
Chapman has notched saves in the first two games of this series as Cincinnati (66-41), which has been on a month-long tear, is now threatening to run away with the Central. The fireballing Cuban has saves in 13 consecutive appearances, striking out 24 in only 12 1-3 innings in that span while conceding only six hits, two hit batsmen and one walk.
The Reds' bullpen has thrown 4 2-3 scoreless innings in this series, including Chapman's scoreless ninth Saturday in Cincinnati's 5-4 win - its 15th in 16 games. Jonathan Broxton , acquired Tuesday at the trade deadline, has contributed 1 2-3 shutout innings in his two games with the Reds and picked up the win Saturday.
"If we can just run out there and do our job, it really makes the game shorter," Broxton told the team's official website.
Cincinnati's relievers lead the majors with a 2.53 ERA, and their 37 saves trail only Pittsburgh's 39.
That leaves Burnett (13-3, 3.27 ERA) in the position of needing to be a stopper for the Pirates, something he did in dominant fashion Tuesday, coming within four outs of a no-hitter before settling for a one-hitter with eight strikeouts in a 5-0 win over the Chicago Cubs .
"It's a short road from no-no to oh-oh. I didn't want to go there," Burnett told the team's official website after winning his third consecutive start. "I was able to regroup and make pitches, calm down and finish. But I was upset."
The right-hander upset Reds hitters twice in a five-day span earlier this season, beating them twice while limiting them to four runs and seven hits with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. Burnett is 4-3 with a 4.96 ERA in nine lifetime starts versus Cincinnati.
Offensively, the Pirates (60-46) have failed to find the clutch hit in this series, going 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in the two losses as their August has started much like last year's August, when they faded from contention by going 8-22. This time, however, the Pirates do have the luxury of chasing two wild-card spots. They currently own a 2 1/2-game lead over St. Louis for the second berth."We're not going to quit," said manager Clint Hurdle said, who was ejected in the second inning Saturday after the umpires warned both benches about pitching inside. "We're going to show up. It's a fun time of the year. You don't like the loss and we have to do a little better. The effort is there. I've come to expect our guys to be professional. Their focus is where it needs to be."
Red starter Homer Bailey (9-6, 3.85) didn't show that sort of focus Tuesday, when he was roughed up for a season high-tying six runs - all in the fourth inning - against San Diego, squandering a six-run lead but getting bailed out as Cincinnati won 7-6 with 5 1-3 scoreless innings of relief.
"Homer struggled in that inning," manager Dusty Baker told the Reds' official website. "We couldn't get anybody loose quick enough. It happened so quickly. He made some decent pitches."
Bailey hasn't made many decent pitches against Andrew McCutchen , who is 8 for 22 with two doubles and one triple lifetime against the right-hander. McCutchen, though, is 1 for 7 in this series and 7 for 33 (.212) in nine games versus Cincinnati this season.
|July 18, 2012||Juan Cruz||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|June 30, 2012||Andrew McCutchen||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained left wrist|
|June 25, 2012||Rod Barajas||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised left knee|
|May 30, 2012||Charlie Morton||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|August 01, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||7-Day DL||Concussion|
|August 01, 2012||Wilson Valdez||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff neck|
|July 31, 2012||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left calf|
|July 31, 2012||Bill Bray||15-Day DL||Lumbar muscle strain|
|July 31, 2012||Devin Mesoraco||Day-to-Day||Left game - dizziness|
|July 16, 2012||Joey Votto||Day-to-Day||Torn meniscus, left knee - out 3-4 weeks|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Clint Hurdle decided to keep A.J. Burnett pitching on his regular day so he didn't miss the showdown with the Cincinnati Reds .
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a day off Thursday that allowed Burnett to face the Reds and improve to 7-2 after a team loss.
Burnett remained undefeated against the Reds this season and Starling Marte hit a tiebreaking two-run triple to help the Pittsburgh Pirates salvage the finale of their three-game series with a 6-2 win on Sunday.
"I've never had an ace before," Hurdle said. "We have a guy with the experience A.J. brought with him.
Neil Walker hit a two-run home run and All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen added a solo shot as Pittsburgh snapped Cincinnati's win streak at five and cut the Reds lead in the National League Central Division to 4 1-2 games.
Burnett (14-3) allowed just one hit after the first inning and retired 18 straight batters before yielding two walks with two outs in the ninth. He allowed three hits and two runs with three walks and seven strikeouts in 8 2-3 innings to improve to 3-0 in three starts against the Reds this season.
"After the second inning he was just rock solid. He got some quick outs," Hurdle said.
Burnett shrugged off the stopper's tag.
"I just want to win whatever it takes, if it's my day it's my responsibility."
Joel Hanrahan got the final out for his 32nd save.
A heavy rain began to fall in the top of the ninth and likely prevented Burnett from completing the game.
"It was nothing I haven't faced before," Burnett said. "I probably should have called time but with three outs to go, I was trying to get through it real quick."
The Reds went into the game with 22 wins in their last 25 games and 15 of their last 16. They are still 16-4 since All-Star first baseman Joey Votto left the lineup with a torn meniscus in his left knee that required surgery.
A pennant race is a new experience for most of the Pirates. Not Burnett.
"I've been in October. This is nothing like October," Burnett said.
Still the win prevented the Pirates from falling too far behind. The Reds badly wanted a sweep.
"You get greedy," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "When you start winning every day, two out of three isn't good enough. We went 5-2 on the home stand, but you always want more. We're in a situation now where, hopefully, we get some guys back. Our guys have fought through some adversity."
Jay Bruce doubled in the first, but Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in the second on Walker's 12th homer of the season, a two-run shot that tied Walker's season high.
After Stubbs tied the score with his 14th homer of the season, the Pirates went back ahead on Marte's two-run triple that followed singles by Gaby Sanchez and Clint Barmes .
Homer Bailey (9-7) allowed nine hits and four runs with one walk and three strikeouts in 4 2-3 innings on Sunday.
"Homer wasn't real sharp," Baker said. "Burnett was real sharp. He got into trouble early, but he got out of it and sailed along until the ninth. He's tough. He's rediscovered himself. He's not 14-3 for nothing."
McCutchen led off the ninth against Logan Ondrusek by tying his single-season career high with his 23rd homer of the season and first since July 17.
"Considering it's been a while and I haven't been feeling that great, it felt good," McCutchen said.
NOTES: Reds 2B Brandon Phillips missed his fifth straight start with a strained left calf. ... The Pirates finished 6-4 on their longest road trip of the season. They open their longest homestand Monday with a four games against Arizona, the first of 11 in 11 days in Pittsburgh. ... The Reds open a seven-game road trip in Milwaukee on Monday. They've won nine consecutive road games, the longest active streak in the National League and the team's longest since a 10-game run from July 27 through Aug. 13, 2005.