Reds-Pirates Preview

A.J. Burnett has been one of baseball's best pitchers through the first month, but the often hapless Pittsburgh Pirates offense has left him without much to show for it.

The Pirates' recent play doesn't suggest that will change.

Burnett will try to give his struggling club a chance to avoid being swept by the Cincinnati Reds for a second time Thursday night.

The Pirates (12-15) have dropped seven of eight and scored five runs during a five-game skid. They were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's 3-0 loss at PNC Park to fall to 2 for 36 during the losing streak.

Pittsburgh's offense has routinely been at its worst when Burnett (0-1, 1.45 ERA) takes his turn in the rotation as his ERA matches his run-support average.

The right-hander is the first pitcher to go winless through five starts with a 1.45 ERA or lower since the Chicago Cubs' Ryan Dempster was 0-1 with a 1.02 ERA in 2012.

However, the 38-year-old has dismissed his teammates' lack of production and lamented his own inability to eat up innings. He's failed to complete seven innings in four of five outings, one of few shortcomings during his sparkling start to the season.

"I need to start going deeper into games," he said. "Six (innings) is all right. But I need to mix some sevens and eights in there and go a little farther."

He limited St. Louis to two hits over six scoreless innings in a 2-1 loss in 10 on Friday. Seven strikeouts pushed his career total to 2,397, surpassing Sandy Koufax and tying him with Kevin Brown for 41st all-time. Dennis Eckersley is 40th with 2,401.

Burnett is 6-3 with a 2.29 ERA in his last 11 starts versus Cincinnati. He gave up two runs on a Joey Votto homer while throwing 5 1-3 innings in a 3-2 walk-off loss April 9.

Votto is 8 for 23 against Burnett but he could be subject to punishment for making contact with the home plate umpire after being ejected in the third inning Wednesday. Votto appeared to say something to Chris Conroy after a swinging strikeout before being tossed, and Votto approached him, bumping his chest.

The Reds (14-13) are trying to sweep Pittsburgh twice in a season for the first time since 2009, having held the Pirates to nine runs in five meetings.

Marlon Byrd had two hits with a home run for the third consecutive game Wednesday for Cincinnati, which was without shortstop Zack Cozart for a second straight game due to a bruised index finger and sore wrist.

Anthony DeSclafani (2-2, 2.03) put together a stellar April before a shaky outing in Friday's 4-3 loss at Atlanta, giving up four runs and walking a career-high five in five innings. He had issued six walks and allowed three earned runs over his first four starts before absorbing his second straight defeat.

DeSclafani yielded two runs in six innings while pitching opposite Burnett last month.

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