Reds-Pirates Preview

It started with A.J. Burnett allowing a career-high hit total. And now Gerrit Cole has in one start surrendered as many earned runs as he had in his previous six.

The pace the Pittsburgh pitching staff established in the middle of the month bordered on unbelievable, but the pendulum has swung the other way in the last week.

The Pirates are back to Burnett's turn in the rotation Thursday night against the Cincinnati Reds, who are seeking their first win in a road series since taking two of three in Pittsburgh from May 5-7.

Cincinnati (33-37) evened the series with Wednesday's 5-2 win after tagging Cole for all its runs. For the Pirates (40-31), it amounts to four losses in five games with a 9.97 ERA out of the starters. On the preceding eight-game win streak, their mark was 0.80.

The lineup, however, has done nothing to cover for them with 2.4 runs per game and a .187 average over the last five.

The Reds have won five of seven and eight of 10 against the Pirates, but they're 5-15 on the road dating to a loss in the last game of their May series at PNC Park. That came in a matchup between Burnett and Anthony DeSclafani, who will again oppose each other.

The 14 hits Burnett (6-3, 2.05 ERA) allowed in Friday's 4-1 loss at Washington marked new territory and resulted in four runs - three earned - in 6 2-3 innings. The right-hander is 0-2 with a 1.59 ERA in his last three starts, mostly because he's received one run of support in that span of 22 2-3 innings.

To manager Clint Hurdle, it was a performance that showed the veteran can keep Pittsburgh in games even without his best stuff.

"I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher go into the seventh giving up double-digit hits like that," Hurdle told MLB's official website. "And have the game still in hand. It wasn't his 'A' stuff. But his will to compete got things done and kept us in the ballgame."

He returns home to a 2-2 record and 1.27 ERA in six starts at PNC Park, which is tied with Scott Kazmir for the top home ERA in the majors. One of the wins came against Cincinnati, improving Burnett to 7-3 with a 2.31 ERA in his last 12 against the Reds.

Jay Bruce's recent hot streak could end if he's in the lineup. The right fielder is 14 for 30 with seven extra-base hits in seven games, but he's 3 for 31 with 11 strikeouts against Burnett.

DeSclafani (5-5, 3.48) suffered his first defeat in six starts in Saturday's 5-0 home loss to Miami. The right-hander allowed three runs and four hits with three walks and hit a batter in five innings. In his previous five outings, he had a 2.48 walks-per-nine-innings mark, but this was more reminiscent of the 4.20 mark he had over his first eight.

"I have to do a better job," DeSclafani said.

His best stuff has come on the road with a 3-2 record, 2.58 ERA and .189 opponent batting average in seven starts compared to 2-3 with 4.58 and .298 marks in seven at home.

The 25-year-old is 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh. Pedro Alvarez (3 for 6 with a home run) and Gregory Polanco (3 for 5) have hit DeSclafani well, but Josh Harrison and Starling Marte are a combined 0 for 9.

Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips missed Wednesday's game because of a jammed left thumb sustained the previous night. Phillips had surgery on the same thumb last season.

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