Burnett's form returns as Pirates roll

Forrest Lee, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Burnett keeps looking forward, and he believes the best days are ahead for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I don't even remember my last start," Burnett said of his tendency not to look back. "I had guys diving left and right behind me today and swinging the bat. It's just fun to see everyone in this room contribute and what's going on right now."
Burnett shook off two forgettable performances by making an impressive one against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday as the Pirates rolled to an 8-1 win before 21,381 fans at Petco Park.
Neil Walker homered and Pittsburgh recorded three run-scoring triples -- the third time it has registered three in a game this season. The Pirates picked up a game in the National League Central race after the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds suffered losses. The Pirates lead the Cardinals by two games and the Reds by 3 1/2.
Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison provided RBI triples for the Pirates (74-51), who never trailed. The three-baggers by McCutchen and Harrison highlighted a five-run spurt in the seventh that blew the game open. McCutchen's resulted in two runs, while Harrison came off the bench to produce a bases-loaded, three-run triple.
"We just hit the ball well and were able to drive it into the gaps and get some guys into scoring position," said McCutchen, who went 1-for-5 with two RBIs and is hitting .356 in 32 games since the All-Star break. "We put ourselves into position to score some runs."
Added manager Clint Hurdle, "Offensively, all our hits were to the big part of the field. A couple of balls were pulled into the gap. As far as the gap, that was it. Everything else was (to the) opposite field. That was big."
The Pirates can sweep the Padres with a win Wednesday in the finale of the three-game series. With the defeat, San Diego (56-70) fell into last place in the NL West, a half-game behind the San Francisco Giants.
Burnett, who was tagged for five runs in each of his previous two starts, kept the Padres' bats quiet. Burnett (6-8) worked seven innings, allowing one run on four hits with seven strikeouts and a walk on a 112 pitches (75 strikes).
"He was able to reboot tonight and use all of his pitches," Hurdle said. "First-pitch strikes got him into some good places. A very good outing for him."
Walker, who scored three times, hit his eighth home run in the first off Padres starter Tyson Ross to get the Pirates off and running.
Ross (3-6) allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits with six strikeouts and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He threw 102 pitches (62 strikes) in the worst performance of his past five starts.
Walker drove a 3-1 pitch from Ross into the sandbox beyond right-center for a solo homer with one out in the first inning.
After Alvarez reached on a throwing error by San Diego second baseman Jedd Gyorko, Russell Martin lined an RBI double into the right field corner with two outs to score Alvarez for a 2-0 Pirates lead.
Alvarez made it 3-0 in the third with an RBI triple to left with two outs that scored Walker.
The Padres loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the inning when Ronny Cedeno reached on an error, Will Venable beat out an infield single and Alexi Amarista drew a walk. However, Burnett fanned Yonder Alonso to prevent the Padres from scoring.
Gyorko put the Padres on the board in the fourth, leading off with a solo home run -- his 14th homer of the season -- to cut the lead to 3-1. But that was the only highlight for the Padres, who were limited to a run for the second straight game.
"I was able to get to (Burnett) the one time, but he did a good job of mixing his pitches," Gyorko said. "Sometimes you don't always get the read you want to on the ball."
NOTES: Pirates OF Starling Marte didn't play for the second game in a row because of a right hand contusion. Marte hurt the hand after being stepped on during a headfirst slide in the weekend series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is day-to-day. ... Pittsburgh RHP Gerrit Cole (6-5) will face Padres RHP Ian Kennedy (4-9) in the series finale Wednesday. The Pirates travel to San Francisco for a four-game set beginning Thursday. The Padres have an off day Thursday before playing host to the Chicago Cubs for a three-game series starting Friday.

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