Pirates-Padres Preview

Clint Hurdle seems to be considerably happier now that the Pittsburgh Pirates are winning consistently, and giving the ball to A.J. Burnett isn't likely to alter his mood.

Burnett looks to continue his masterful final season and keep the Pirates rolling in the opener of their 10-game road trip Thursday night against the San Diego Padres.

Pittsburgh (24-22) was four games under .500 following a 4-3, 13-inning loss to Minnesota on May 20, and Hurdle called the team the "definition of insanity," according to MLB's official website.

"If you want more, you've got to do more," Hurdle said.

The Pirates are outscoring opponents 35-9 during a six-game winning streak, their longest since taking nine straight from June 20-30, 2013.

"We're headed in the right direction," Hurdle said after Pittsburgh's 5-2 win over Miami on Wednesday. "You've got to take ownership of your season. You've got to take ownership of your club. These guys know we have talent. For way too long, we were a good team playing mediocre baseball. So you're not a good team, really. You've got to connect the dots. You've got to put the parts of the game in play."

Burnett (4-1, 1.37 ERA) owns the lowest qualifying ERA in the majors, and the right-hander has a 1.29 mark while winning four consecutive starts for the first time since a career-best eight straight from May 19-June 28, 2012, during his first stint with Pittsburgh.

"He's like a kid in the backyard out there that's having some fun that is being aggressive and very, very purposeful on the mound," Hurdle said. "He's pitching as well as I've ever seen him pitch. He's doing more."

The 38-year-old right-hander, who plans to retire at season's end, was superb Saturday, allowing one run with a season-high 10 strikeouts while outpitching Matt Harvey in an 8-2 win over the New York Mets.

"I just look at leaving it all out on the field, knowing it's my last go around," Burnett said. "It's fun to pitch for (my teammates), to be around them. They bring so much out of me."

Burnett is 2-3 with a 3.96 ERA in six starts over the last three seasons against the Padres (23-25).

San Diego has won three of four games, matching its win total from the previous 12. They Padres have yet to win more than three straight, which they can do for a fifth time after taking their final two on the road against the Los Angeles Angels.

Ian Kennedy (2-4, 6.11) takes the mound looking to avoid matching a career-high five straight losing starts from May 3-25, 2012, with Arizona. He has a 7.47 ERA over his last three outings but was solid Saturday at Dodger Stadium, holding Los Angeles to two runs with six strikeouts in six innings of a 2-0 loss.

The right-hander was 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA last season against the Pirates, though Josh Harrison went 4 for 5 with three extra-base hits and Gregory Polanco was 3 for 3.

Kennedy will get his first look at rookie Jung Ho Kang, who is hitting .389 (14 for 36) in his past nine games after connecting for a two-run single Wednesday.

San Diego's Justin Upton is 7 for 16 with a homer and seven RBIs over the last four games, and he's 6 for 14 with two homers and two doubles versus Burnett.


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