Burnett leads Pirates to 8-1 victory over Padres

Travis Sawchik
| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 1:24 a.m.

SAN DIEGO — A night after Francisco Liriano's dominant outing, A.J. Burnett reminded the baseball community that the Pirates have perhaps two pitchers deserving of the ace label Tuesday in an 8-1 win over the Padres.

After struggling in his last two starts at Colorado and St. Louis — he allowed five earned runs in both — Burnett rebounded with seven quality innings. He surrendered one run, four hits and a walk in the city where he pitched his nine-walk no-hitter in 2001.

Tuesday's win was Burnett's first against San Diego since that no-hitter more than a decade ago.

“When Liriano and Burnett are on their games, they can be a force,” Hurdle said. “They can beat good teams. They understand the importance of taking that ball and getting deep. (Burnett) was just attacking and being aggressive. He wanted to get back in the right lane, and he did.”

The Pirates extended their lead to two games over the Cardinals and 3 12 games over the Reds in the NL Central. The Cardinals and Reds lost Tuesday.

“We all feed off of each other,” Burnett said of following Liriano. “It's been that way with any of our guys. … You want to go out and keep your team in it and keep it rolling.”

Burnett (6-8, 3.09 ERA) commanded both sides of the plate with his four- and two-seam fastballs. He threw 75 of his 112 pitches for strikes.

He used his knuckle-curve to record the majority of his seven strikeouts. Burnett struck out Padres third baseman Chase Headley three times with his breaking ball, which probably didn't boost the Pirates' potential interest in Headley, who was placed on waivers Tuesday.

“I usually don't change until I need to,” Burnett said, “until they show me they're making an adjustment.”

The only damage against Burnett came in the fourth, when he left a fastball out over the plate that Jedd Gyorko smashed into the left-field seats for his 14th homer.

“I tried to stay with Russ (Martin),” Burnett said. “I didn't one time, and the ball left (the field.)”

It was the first homer Burnett had allowed in 52 13 innings, a dramatic improvement for a pitcher who allowed 31 home runs in 2011 while pitching for the Yankees in the cramped confines of Yankee Stadium.

Burnett has taken to the NL and offense-suppressing stadiums such as PNC Park and Petco Park. But it's not simply the environment that has helped Burnett. It's the increased use of his sinking, two-seam fastball and pitching to both sides of the plate.

In New York, Burnett was hesitant to pitch in to left-handed hitters and leery of the short porch at Yankee Stadium. But Tuesday, he ran a two-seam fastball inside on left-hander Yonder Alonso to get ahead in the count and put away Alonso with a sharp breaking curve to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.

Burnett also recorded 10 groundball outs, many the product of his two-seam fastball.

Burnett entered the game with the majors' ninth-worst run support (3.2 runs per start). It's a major reason why Burnett had won just twice since May 18. But run support was not an issue Tuesday.

Andrew McCutchen's two-run triple and Josh Harrison's three-run triple, each to the right-center gap, gave the Pirates' a five-run seventh and an 8-1 lead. It was the first time the Pirates had tripled twice in an inning since June 1 last season.

“The biggest thing for me tonight was the start off the mound for A.J., but then offensively all our hits were to the big part of the field, opposite field,” Hurdle said. “It's something we've been working on.”

Padres starter Tyson Ross was knocked out of the game in the seventh. The right-hander was charged with five runs (four earned) in 6 13 innings.

Pedro Alvarez had an RBI triple in the third.

Neil Walker began the scoring with a solo blast off Ross in the first, his eighth home run of the season. Walker, who scored three runs Tuesday, is batting .328 in August.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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