Pirates aim to stay in 1st place, visit Brewers

It might not have felt to the Pittsburgh Pirates like they won their series this past weekend.

The Pirates failed to bring sole possession of first place into Monday's opener of a three-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers and try to rebound this afternoon behind Charlie Morton.

Pittsburgh took its first two meetings with St. Louis over the weekend, but dropped Sunday's finale 7-2 to fall back into a tie with the Cardinals for the top spot in the NL Central. The Pirates will visit the Cardinals this weekend on the second leg of its nine-game road trip that begins today.

The Cincinnati Reds, who are hosting the Cards for four straight games, are 3 1/2 contests back of first place.

Kris Johnson struggled in his first career start, giving up five runs on seven hits and two walks over two-plus innings for the Pirates.

"When you get behind hitters, especially hitters like these, you're going to get hurt," Johnson remarked.

Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, two players acquired in trades last week, combined for three of Pittsburgh's six hits. Byrd also drove in a run and scored, while Morneau added a walk in his Pirates debut.

Morton tries to stretch his winning streak to four straight decisions on Monday afternoon with a second straight win over Milwaukee.

The righty has won back-to-back starts and has not lost since Aug. 1, posting a 1.83 earned run average over a five-start unbeaten streak. He is coming off a 7-1 win over the Brewers on Wednesday, charged with one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings.

"You see confidence, you see really good tempo and rhythm on the mound," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle about Morton. "His complete arsenal of pitches has been in play and he's been really consistent."

Morton, 29, is 6-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 14 starts this season and picked up his first career win over Milwaukee. He had dropped his previous four decisions against the club and has a 5.17 ERA in eight meetings.

Tom Gorzelanny started opposite Morton last week and gave up four runs over 5 1/3 innings in defeat. He fell to 2-5 with a 5.04 ERA in nine starts since joining the rotation and was shifted back to the bullpen. Tyler Thornburg will replace him in the rotation today and makes his 15th appearance and fourth start of the campaign.

The right-handed Thornburg will make his first start since Aug. 14 at Texas, where he allowed two runs -- one earned -- over six innings. He has made four relief appearances since and is 1-0 with a 1.94 ERA this year.

Thornburg has never before faced the Pirates as a starter, though the 24-year- old has posted a 1.17 ERA over three previous relief encounters without a decision.

The Brewers were swept in three games over the weekend by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They saw the Angels rally for four runs in the seventh inning on Sunday and dropped a 5-3 decision.

Carlos Gomez hit a two-run homer for the Brewers, who stumbled to their fourth loss in five games.

"We had a really good chance to win two of these games, so as long as we're having chances to win," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

The Pirates have won six of their last eight versus the Brewers and lead the season series 10-6.