Following a stunning late-inning rally, the Pittsburgh Pirates send the NL strikeout leader to the mound against the most strikeout-prone team in the majors.
A.J. Burnett will try to lead the surging Pirates to their season-high fifth straight win Saturday night when they take on the AL-worst Houston Astros at PNC Park.After Pedro Alvarez hit a game-tying homer in the eighth, the Pirates were gifted a 5-4 victory Friday night when Houston's Jimmy Paredes and Jake Elmore collided and dropped a pop-up with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth.The Pirates (25-17) won for the seventh time in eight games to move a season-high eight games over .500."I like the direction we're headed, the effort and the attitude," manager Clint Hurdle said.Now Hurdle turns to Burnett (3-4, 2.73 ERA), who could be in line for a big day against a Houston offense that has already amassed 417 strikeouts.The right-hander has fanned 72 and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in each of his nine starts.The Pirates, though, have given him only two runs over his four defeats, including a 5-1 loss at Milwaukee on Monday. He matched a season low with six strikeouts and allowed three earned runs over seven innings.While he's 4-5 with a 4.54 ERA in 11 career meetings versus the Astros, Burnett has won his last two against them, yielding three runs and striking out 16 over 15 1/3 innings.Burnett, though, has had trouble keeping runners close. Milwaukee stole six bases, and the 13 steals he's allowed rank among the most in the league. Pittsburgh's catchers have yielded 39 stolen bases, also among the league's worst totals.The Astros (11-31), however, have only 21 steals and rank in the bottom third of the majors in stolen base percentage (61.8).Jose Altuve, who is expected to be activated from the bereavement list Saturday following the death of his grandmother, Brandon Barnes and Marwin Gonzalez lead Houston with four stolen bases apiece.Carlos Pena has hit safely in six straight games, but he's 6 for 37 (.162) with two homers and 14 strikeouts in this matchup.Scheduled starter Erik Bedard (0-2, 6.67) showed some signs of improvement by reaching the fifth inning for the first time in his last start on Saturday, giving up two runs and striking out seven versus Texas, but Houston's bullpen blew a two-run lead in an 8-7 loss. That's been a common theme for a relief corps that is last in the majors with 30 home runs allowed and a 4.99 ERA.Bedard, who went 7-14 with a 4.15 ERA for Pittsburgh last season, is 4-5 with a 3.26 ERA in 12 career starts at PNC Park and facing the Pirates for the first time.Although the Pirates are hitting just .231 against left-handers, they're hitting .297 against them over their last 16 games.Starling Marte leads Pittsburgh with a .417 (15 for 36) batting average, while Gaby Sanchez is 11 for 32 (.344) with three homers when facing left-handers.Andrew McCutchen went 3 for 5 with a homer Friday and is hitting .388 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 26 career games against the Astros at PNC Park.