Pittsburgh ace A.J. Burnett aims for a fourth defeat of Cincinnati this season tonight when the Pirates visit the Reds in the finale of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.
A 35-year-old from Arkansas, Burnett was 2-3 against the Reds entering 2012, but racked up career wins three, four and five against them on May 30, June 5 and Aug. 5, respectively.
He went seven innings and allowed an unearned run in a 2-1 win at Pittsburgh in the initial game, then traveled to Cincinnati and tossed five innings of three-run ball in an 8-4 victory on June 5.
The third win of the season came after 8 2/3 innings of three-hit, two-run ball in a 6-2 victory - again in Cincinnati - that improved Burnett to 14-3 for the year and dropped his earned run average to 3.19.
He's gone on to win just once in six starts since while tumbling to 15-6 overall and watching the ERA climb to 3.68 as the Pirates have plummeted out of the National League Central Division race, where they now stand in third place - 13 games behind the first-place Reds.
Pittsburgh is still in the hunt for the NL's second available wild card position, which they now trail by 2 1/2 games behind defending World Series champion St. Louis.
Cincinnati opposes him with Texas-born righty Homer Bailey, who's dropped two straight decisions to Burnett.
Bailey came into 2012 with five wins in five career decisions against the Pirates, then improved to 6-0 with a complete-game 8-1 victory at Pittsburgh on May 29.
He dropped the aforementioned 8-4 verdict to Burnett in June 5 after being tagged for six runs in three innings, then allowed four runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings in the 6-2 loss on Aug. 5.
Like Burnett, Bailey has won just once in six starts since, falling to 10-9 on the season after a 9-6 start, though he's given up just three runs in his last 14 2/3 innings in a pair of no-decisions against Houston - both Cincinnati losses.
Bailey is 3-7 in 15 home starts with a 5.36 ERA.
On Tuesday, Brandon Phillips blasted a solo homer and hit a run-scoring double as the Reds took another step closer to a division crown with a 5-3 win over the reeling Pirates.
Mike Leake (8-9) gave up nine hits and three runs, including two home runs, in seven innings for the NL Central-leading Reds. The right-hander helped his own cause with two singles and scored during a three-run second inning.
Kevin Correia (10-9) allowed four runs - three earned - on seven hits and walked three over six frames for Pittsburgh, which has lost five straight and nine of its last 11 games.
"They had some sideways damage done on him, but he gave us an opportunity to win the game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates, who also have dropped eight in a row on the road, put their first two batters on base in the seventh inning as Jose Tabata walked and Michael McKenry singled to center field. After pinch-hitter Jeff Clement grounded into a double play, another pinch-hitter, Gaby Sanchez, hit a line-drive home run to left field, trimming Pittsburgh's deficit to 4-3.
Scott Rolen, though, responded with a solo shot in the eighth for Cincinnati.
Jonathan Broxton worked the ninth for his first save as a Red.
The teams split their first 12 games of 2012, a season after the Pirates won 10 of 15 meetings.