Pirates-Cardinals Preview

The Associated Press

Lance Lynn was supposed to be in the St. Louis Cardinals' bullpen when the season started, but instead he's been a dominant cog in one of the majors' best rotations.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have already seen the evidence.

After four impressive starts in April - including one in Pittsburgh - Lynn can become the first NL pitcher with five wins Wednesday night as the Cardinals continue this three-game series against A.J. Burnett and the Pirates.

While no one in the St. Louis organization would call Chris Carpenter's shoulder injury a good thing, Lynn (4-0, 1.33 ERA) has certainly provided the Cardinals (15-8) with a silver lining. He became baseball's first four-game winner last Wednesday at Wrigley Field, allowing a single run for the fourth straight start while striking out seven over a career-high eight innings in a 5-1 victory.

"He did great," Carlos Beltran told the Cardinals' official website. "He's been pitching great for us. Throwing pitches for strikes, getting ahead of hitters. And when you're capable of doing that, then you have other pitches to play around."

Lynn retired the last 11 Cubs he faced and recorded 15 of his 24 outs on ground balls after having only a 51.2 grounder percentage in his first three starts.

To manager Mike Matheny, Lynn is adjusting to the clubs he's facing - last week was his second start against Chicago in 12 days - before they can adjust to him.

"I think (teams) are going to try and continue to do different things as they watch and study," Matheny told the league's official website. "But it's hard to really put a real good plan together when you're making good quality pitches."

He'll be facing the Pirates (10-13) for a second time as well, and Pittsburgh can certainly stand to make some adjustments. The right-hander gave up a leadoff inside-the-park homer to Alex Presley in the first inning April 20, but surrendered only three more singles over seven innings in a 4-1 victory.

"You have to take the barrel to him," Hurdle said of Lynn. "He doesn't seem like he's going to hurt himself.''

Pittsburgh hadn't exactly been challenging pitchers for most of the first month - through Sunday it ranked last in the majors in walks, extra-base hits and runs - but it finally broke the five-run barrier with Monday's 9-3 win at Atlanta.

The Pirates did so again in Tuesday's opener at Busch Stadium, but had a rare rough night on the mound. The Cardinals became the first team to score more than six against Pittsburgh, riding homers from Rafael Furcal, Matt Holliday and David Freese to a 10-7 win.

"I do like the fact that we're finding our offense a little bit,'' manager Clint Hurdle said. "But again, we're always going to talk about a complete package, and tonight we weren't complete.

Charlie Morton was the first Pirates starter to allow more than three runs, a rocky performance Burnett (1-1, 1.38) will hope to prove was nothing but a rare exception. Burnett held St. Louis to three hits over seven innings in winning his Pittsburgh debut 2-0 on April 21, then got little help while allowing two runs over six in Friday's 6-1 loss at Atlanta.

The right-hander struck out eight, but lamented three walks.

"You want to go a little deeper, but overall, it was all right," he said. "But those walks will kill you."

Burnett's April start was his first against the Cardinals since 2005, but his success against some of their big bats runs deeper than those seven innings. Holliday, Beltran and Yadier Molina are hitting a combined .189 (7 for 37) off Burnett with 12 strikeouts.

Beltran is in a 3-for-32, 13-strikeout slump that began when he went 0 for 3 against Burnett.

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