The St. Louis Cardinals should have catcher Yadier Molina back in the lineup on Thursday when they close out an important three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium.

Molina has been out since July 30 with a sprained knee. However, despite hitting .330 the All-Star backstop was in a 3-for-19 slump when he went on the disabled list.

"We're going to be careful," St. Louis catcher Mike Matheny said. "You just have to try to do the right thing."

Molina's return couldn't have come at a better time for the Cardinals, who were stymied by Francisco Liriano on Wednesday in a 5-1 loss.

Liriano pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning and the Pirates got second inning homers from Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones to move three games up on the Cards in the National League Central

St. Louis' offense was dormant for the most part Wednesday thanks to Liriano (13-5), who bounced back from a brutal performance in Colorado that saw him surrender 12 hits and 10 runs last Friday.

"He attacked them and stayed aggressive," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates broke a season-high tying four-game skid and sent the Cardinals to their fifth defeat in seven tries.

Shelby Miller (11-8) surrendered eight hits and five runs -- three earned -- over six innings.

Getting the call for the Pirates on Thursday will be righty A.J. Burnett, who is 5-8 with a 2.95 ERA. Like Liriano, Burnett was hit hard in a loss to Colorado his last time out, as he surrendered six runs (5 earned) and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday.

Burnett has faced the Cardinals 14 times and is 7-5 against them with a 3.67 ERA.

St. Louis, meanwhile, will counter with righty Lance Lynn, who is 13-6 with a 3.79 ERA. Lynn lost for the first time in three decisions on Friday against Chicago, as the Cubs reached him for three runs and three hits in 6 2/3 innings. Lynn also matched a season-high by walking five batters in the setback.

Lynn is 4-1 with a 3.86 ERA in seven starts and two relief appearances against the Pirates.

The Pirates have won eight of 12 contests against St. Louis this season and had a six-game winning streak in this series broken on Aug. 1.