A.J. Burnett has called the American League home for the last six seasons, but right now he’s enjoying a pretty spectacular view from his new address.
Burnett has the NL’s best home ERA in his first season with Pittsburgh, and Sunday against the Kansas City Royals he’ll be looking to win a fifth consecutive start while lifting the Pirates to their first interleague sweep since 2001.
Burnett became known as a high-priced mistake in the Bronx, signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal in late 2008 and posting ERAs above 5.00 with the Yankees in both 2010 and 2011.
New York unloaded the right-hander to the Pirates (31-27) in February - agreeing to pay $20 million of the remaining $33 million on his deal - and so far it seems the shift to the NL has done wonders. Pittsburgh has won Burnett’s last six outings as he’s posted a 2.06 ERA, and he’s earned the victory in the last four after striking out eight and allowing three runs over five innings in Tuesday’s 8-4 win in Cincinnati.
“I was able to find my curveball later on,” Burnett (5-2, 3.76 ERA) told the Pirates’ official website of settling down after a two-run first. “… But it’s a good sign for our offense to get some early runs. This team never gives up.”
The offense hasn’t needed to supply much help when Burnett has taken the hill at one of baseball’s friendliest pitchers’ parks. He’s 3-0 with a 1.02 ERA in five starts at PNC Park.
Burnett is 4-2 with a 1.86 ERA in eight starts against the Royals (24-33) since 2007, but he’ll have at least one bit of history working against him. The Pirates haven’t completed an interleague sweep of any kind since taking three from Cleveland from June 15-17, 2001 - their first series versus an AL club at PNC.
Pittsburgh has played 49 interleague series since.
Despite an inability to sweep, the Pirates haven’t been bad at home against the AL lately. They clinched a fifth straight interleague series win at PNC with Saturday’s 5-3 victory over the Royals to pull within a game of first-place Cincinnati.
“We’ve got a lot of competitive guys out there,” starter James McDonald told the team’s official website after lasting just four innings. “… We won the game; that’s how I like to evaluate my work afterwards. If we win … that’s all that matters.”
Kansas City, meanwhile, fell to 9-23 in its last 32 versus NL opponents. With three straight losses, another Sunday would mark the Royals’ worst skid since its 12-game slide in mid-April.
They’re hitting .177 with runners in scoring position in June.
“We’re in a little bit of a lull right now and we’ve got to find a way to get that big hit with runners on second and third,” outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “And you’ve got to give credit to Pittsburgh’s pitching staff. They have the second-best ERA in the National League and there are a lot of good pitching staffs in the National League.”
Bruce Chen (5-5, 4.37) has been awfully good himself over the last month. The left-hander is 5-1 with a 3.79 ERA in six outings since May 9, with seven four-hit innings in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Minnesota registering as the best of the bunch.
“Bruce was tremendous,” manager Ned Yost told the Royals’ official website. “He’d speed their bats up and slow ‘em down. He had a perfect mix.”
Chen is 0-4 with a 6.20 ERA in five starts against the Pirates, only one of which has come since 2005.