Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett will try to post the longest winning streak by a Pirates pitcher in 38 years this afternoon when he takes the hill for the finale of a four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Burnett, who posted earned run averages above 5.00 in each of his previous two seasons with the Yankees, has won seven straight starts to run his season record to 8-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 12 outings. That is the longest winning streak by a Pirates pitcher since Dock Ellis won eight consecutive starts from July 15-Aug. 27, 1974.
Burnett will try to match that win streak today and extend his overall unbeaten run to 10 outings in a row since getting lit up for 12 runs and 12 hits over just 2 2/3 innings of a loss at St. Louis on May 2. He has pitched to a 1.97 ERA since.
The right-hander is coming off a win over Detroit on Friday, when he pitched six scoreless innings of two-hit ball. He also walked three in the 4-1 win, with Pittsburgh scoring all four of its runs over the first two frames.
"Any time you get some early runs like that it makes you go out there and go a little harder," Burnett said. "You go and try to throw more zeroes than the other guy. We jumped on them and we were able to make pitches when we needed to."
The 35-year-old has faced the Phillies 18 times prior, all but one of those starts, and is 5-9 with a 5.13 ERA.
While Burnett has been streaking for the Pirates, Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick is pitching to an 8.10 ERA over a four-start winless streak that he hopes to snap this afternoon.
The right-hander lost three straight decisions before not factoring into a 7-6 win over the Rays on Saturday. Kendrick was charged with three runs -- two earned -- on six hits and three walks while only lasting four innings.
Kendrick is 2-7 with a 5.24 ERA in 16 starts this season, with 11 of those being starts. The 27-year-old will look to boost those numbers today against a Pirates club in which he is 4-1 against with a 3.38 ERA in seven career meetings, including five starts.
Citizens Bank Park had an extra jolt of energy last night with the return of All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, who had missed the Phils' first 76 games due to chronic knee condition. Utley homered in his first at-bat and finished with three hits, while Carlos Ruiz followed Utley's solo shot in the first inning with one of his own.
However, the Pirates offense erupted for 14 hits and slugged its way to an 11-7 win.
"I was very proud of the way we responded," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Michael McKenry homered and drove in four runs, Casey McGehee belted a solo shot and Neil Walker went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI for the Pirates, who snapped a three-game slide and pulled within two games of first place in the National League Central.
Andrew McCutchen added a two-run homer off Chad Qualls in the eighth after the hosts pulled within a run, sealing a win for starter James McDonald, who allowed four runs on six hits over 5 2/3 frames.
Philadelphia, out of starting pitching options as a result of Sunday's doubleheader, used six relievers to get through the game and failed to secure its first three-game win streak since taking four in a row from May 23-26.
"We have to get our bullpen straightened out. You see it. We see it. They know it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Though Utley provided a quick spark, he isn't expected to play today as Manuel will give him a day off after two games played. Utley played Tuesday night in a rehab game.
"I was excited to be out there. It's been a long road to get to this point," Utley said. "I had a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenaline. The crowd definitely helped out."
The Pirates took two of three over the visiting Phillies to begin the season on April 5-8, but Philadelphia has won seven of the past 10 overall encounters and is 16-3 in its last 19 games versus Pittsburgh at Citizens Bank Park.