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Bucs complete sweep behind Burnett outing

| Sunday, June 10, 2012, 4:40 p.m.
Pirates starter A.J. Burnett acknowledges the crowd as he leaves the game in the eighth inning against the Royals on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at PNC Park. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen celebrates his two-run home ru n with Neil Walker during the third inning against the Royals on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at PNC Park. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burrnett in the dugout against the Royals on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at PNC Park. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
First baseman Matt Hague scoops up a ball hit by the Royals’ Johnny Giavotella on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at PNC Park. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

In a recent poll of more than 200 active major league players, right-hander A.J. Burnett was named the second-most overrated pitcher.

The Pirates demand a recount.

“It's way off base,” Pirates catcher Rod Barajas said. “I don't know who voted for A.J., but if you gave them a chance to vote again, I don't think they'd do it the same way.”

The poll was conducted during spring training, a few weeks after Burnett's disappointing tenure with the New York Yankees ended when he was traded to the Pirates. Burnett quickly settled in with his new team and is putting together a remarkable comeback season.

On Sunday, Burnett again was dominant in a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Burnett flirted with a no-hitter but lost it on Alex Gordon's one-out single in the sixth inning. To win his fifth straight start, Burnett (6-2) worked 7 13 innings, allowed two runs and five hits, walked two and struck out five.

“It was probably the best I've been for a while,” Burnett said, matter-of-factly.

Burnett's gem paced the Pirates to just their third sweep since interleague play began in 1997. It also tied the Bucs with Cincinnati for first place in the National League Central Division.

Burnett took pressure off the work-weary bullpen by pitching deep into the game.

“A very solid performance, across the board,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Good tempo, good rhythm on a hot day. He was really efficient with things.”

Overrated? Really?

“Maybe I am,” said Burnett, who said he was unaware of the Sports Illustrated poll. “Who knows? I'll keep tricking 'em.”

One month ago, Burnett was shelled by the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing 12 runs in 2 23 innings. In seven starts since then, he's 5-0 with a 2.11 ERA.

“After that start (in St. Louis), a lot of people might have thought, ‘Here comes the old A.J. This is where he falls apart,' ” Barajas said. “No way was he going to let that happen. It's a testament to how much he wants to win and what he wants to accomplish this year.”

The Pirates built a 3-0 lead through three innings against left-hander Bruce Chen (5-6). Although Chen tried to walk him in every at-bat, Andrew McCutchen drove in all three runs with an RBI single and a two-run homer, his 11th of the season.

“The fact it was McCutchen who we let beat us is what concerns me,” Royals catcher Brayan Pena said.

The Pirates don't play the Royals again this season. But McCutchen seems almost certain to play in Kansas City, which in July will host the All-Star Game.

Closer Joel Hanrahan was not available after pitching in each of the previous three games, so Jason Grilli pitched the ninth. Grilli gave up a single to Alcides Escobar, then walked Yuniesky Betancourt with one out.

Grilli blew a 95-mph fastball by Gordon for strike three. On an 0-2 count, Grilli went to his slide-step fastball — a technique so successful that practically everyone on the staff is copying it — and froze Johnny Giavotella to end the game.

“You pick up tricks and stuff over the years,” Grilli said. “This one is working.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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