A.J. Burnett acknowledges that maintaining his superb first-half statistics was unlikely, but he undoubtedly wanted a better showing after the All-Star break than his past two outings.
The veteran right-hander will try to end his brief slump and lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to their sixth win in seven games Thursday night against the Cincinnati Reds, whom they've struggled to beat this season.
Burnett headed to his first All-Star Game in Cincinnati after going 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA, tied for the NL's second-best, and went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts against the Reds.
In his two games since the break, he has allowed 11 runs and 22 hits in 11 2-3 innings. Burnett (8-4, 2.68 ERA) got enough support for a 10-7 win in Kansas City on July 20 but took a 9-3 loss to Washington on Saturday, his first in six starts since June 19.
"If you expect me to go out and do what I did in the first half, you're nuts," Burnett said. "I'm doing everything I can but that's ridiculous numbers and I mean execution is really the answer. The first half I executed, the last two starts I haven't."
The Pirates (59-41) have won three in a row since Burnett's loss and finished a two-game sweep in Minnesota with a 10-4 victory Wednesday.
Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the fifth and scored on two Twins errors following an RBI single in a five-run sixth. Jung Ho Kang, batting .462 in his last 10 games, went 3 for 5 with his second home run in as many contests.
The Pirates now seek to improve on a 2-7 record against the Reds. Pittsburgh opened its season being swept in a three-game series in Cincinnati and has dropped nine of 11 there.
The Reds (45-54) have lost 17 of 28 since their latest series with the Pirates, and dealing Johnny Cueto to Kansas City on Sunday signaled they are sellers ahead of Friday's trade deadline. One player rumored to be on the move, Jay Bruce, hit a solo homer in a 1-0 win in St. Louis on Wednesday, and another, Aroldis Chapman, converted his 12th consecutive save.
"It's one of those things where you try your best to be a professional and not let any of it bother you," Bruce told MLB's official website. "You hear what people say. But I'm on the Reds. I'm here to help these guys win games. This is all that I know."
David Holmberg will try to fill Cueto's sizable spot in the rotation in his season debut. Holmberg went 2-2 with a 4.80 ERA in seven appearances for Cincinnati last season, including five starts, and will make his first against Pittsburgh.
Aramis Ramirez is the only current Pirates hitter to have faced him, going 2 for 5 with a solo homer. He had his first hits in four games since returning to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, going 2 for 5.
Pittsburgh might need more production from Ramirez with Gregory Polanco's status unknown because of an ailing left knee. The outfielder was removed in the fourth inning Wednesday and failed to get a hit for just the third time in his past 19 games.
Cincinnati's Joey Votto, batting .550 in his last 12 games despite going 0 for 3 on Wednesday, is hitting .458 with three homers in his past six at home against Pittsburgh but is 1 for 9 versus Burnett this season. Bruce is 3 for 31 lifetime against the right-hander.
Brandon Phillips is batting .406 in a seven-game hit streak against Pittsburgh, and Todd Frazier is hitting .359 with five homers in a nine-game run.