Pirates-Braves Preview

The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves' offense is back in gear following the team's worst start in 24 years.

The Pittsburgh Pirates' pitching staff could change that.

Atlanta looks to match the best seven-game start in Turner Field's 15-year history Friday night when these clubs begin a four-game series.

Since batting .165 with 10 runs during an 0-4 start - the club's worst since going 0-10 in 1988 - the Braves (12-7) have hit .284 while averaging 6.1 runs.

Michael Bourn, Dan Uggla and reigning NL player of the week Freddie Freeman combined to hit .390 (32 for 82) with four homers and 14 RBIs on a 5-2 trip that ended with Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Los Angeles.

"It's a pretty good road trip," manager Fredi Gonzalez told the Braves' official website after his team scored three ninth-inning runs.

Atlanta will look to continue that momentum as it begins a seven-game homestand. The Braves, who last opened 6-1 at Turner Field during its inaugural 1997 season, have won 44 of the last 63 at home against the Pirates (8-10).

Pittsburgh begins its seven-game trip ranked toward the bottom of the majors with a .221 batting average and 41 runs. The Pirates set a major league mark with their 18th game to start a season in which neither team scored more than five runs after splitting a doubleheader against Colorado on Wednesday.

While manager Clint Hurdle is waiting for more production from his lineup, he couldn't ask for more from the pitching staff, which is among the NL's best with a 2.58 ERA.

Friday's scheduled starter A.J. Burnett is well on his way to becoming the ace of that group after throwing seven innings of three-hit ball in his Pirates debut Saturday, a 2-0 victory over St. Louis.

The 35-year-old right-hander fractured his right orbital bone during a bunting drill Feb. 29 and had surgery two days later.

"I think coming up here was my time to turn my switch on," said Burnett, who posted a 9.58 ERA in three rehab starts.

It was a nice return to the NL after three seasons with Toronto and three with New York, but pitching at Turner Field can't give Burnett much confidence. He is 1-7 with a 5.08 ERA in 11 starts there.

The Braves hope Tommy Hanson (2-2, 3.38) can build on his best start of the season after he struck out seven over seven innings and set down the last 13 batters he faced in a 3-2 win over Arizona on Saturday.

The right-hander is 0-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Pirates. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who leads Pittsburgh with a .329 batting average and is tied for tops on the team with six RBIs, is 0 for 4 versus Hanson.

Second baseman Neil Walker, in a 3-for-17 slump, is 3 for 6 with a homer and triple when facing him.

Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who had the go-ahead RBI single in the ninth inning Wednesday, is batting .351 (13 for 37) with two homers against Burnett.

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