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AP - Sports

While the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to monitor Gerrit Cole's innings, the rookie's only focus is trying to help his team maintain first place in the NL Central.

The right-hander can do that by helping the visiting Pirates complete their first sweep of the San Diego Padres in 10 seasons Wednesday.

Since making his major league debut June 11, Cole (6-5, 3.88 ERA) has enjoyed a solid season, but Clint Hurdle and staff are figuring out the best way to preserve him should Pittsburgh (74-51) reach the postseason for the first time since 1992.

Though the team has not set an innings limit for Cole, who turns 23 next month, he's thrown 140 between the minors and majors this season. The 2011 first overall pick threw 132 minor league innings during his first professional season in 2012.

It's likely Cole would pitch out of the bullpen if the Pirates make the playoffs, but the coaching staff could decide to give him some work in that area during the final few weeks of the regular season as well.

"They (pitching coach Ray Searage and Hurdle) are openly communicating with me, letting me know what's going on," Cole told the Pirates' official website. "Doing things to extend my season is fine; I just don't want to be distracted by having to keep track of innings or pitches while I'm on the mound."

Pitching on eight days' rest Friday, Cole allowed two runs in six innings of a 6-2 victory over Arizona to end a three-start stretch where he went 0-2 with a 5.19 ERA.

After the Pirates held San Diego (56-70) to single runs in each of the first two contests, Cole tries to help the club sweep the Padres for the first time since April 29-May 1, 2003.

A.J. Burnett threw seven strong innings and Pittsburgh banged out six extra-base hits during Tuesday's 8-1 win at Petco Park. Pinch-hitter Josh Harrison hit a three-run triple in the seventh after Andrew McCutchen delivered a two-run triple earlier in the frame to help the Pirates win consecutive games after losing seven of nine.

"All our hits were to the big part of the field,'' Hurdle said. "Couple balls were pulled to the gap. Everything else, big part of the field, opposite.

"Something we've been talking about, something we've been working on. We were able to put it in play (Tuesday).''

McCutchen is batting .426 with 12 RBIs in his last 17 games, and is 3 for 8 against scheduled San Diego starter Ian Kennedy (4-9, 5.12).

The right-hander suffered his first loss with the Padres on Friday when he allowed five runs, three homers, and walked four while striking out seven in 4 2-3 innings of a 5-2 defeat to the New York Mets.

"I wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be command-wise all night, which explains why there were so many home runs,'' said Kennedy, who is 1-1 with a 4.42 ERA in three starts since Arizona traded him to San Diego.

The right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in four starts versus Pittsburgh.

Jedd Gyorko had a fourth-inning homer Tuesday for the Padres, who have scored three runs or fewer 11 times during a 4-10 skid.

The San Diego second baseman is batting .250 in August, but hit six of his 14 home runs and has 11 RBIs in 16 games this month.

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