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A.J. Burnett doesn't have much time before his 17th and final season comes to end, even if the Pittsburgh Pirates advance deep into the playoffs.

He wasn't about to waste any more of it sitting out. The right-hander makes his first start in six weeks as the wild card-leading Pirates begin an eight-game homestand Thursday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, who have had Pittsburgh's number over the last few months. Burnett (8-5, 3.06 ERA) had been on the disabled list with elbow inflammation since his last outing July 30, when a loss to Cincinnati increased his ERA to 10.13 during a three-start stretch. He was determined to get back on the hill as soon as possible and pushed his rehabilitation in order to do so. Burnett has said he will retire following the season. "Once I got ready on the mound, it was time to go," Burnett told MLB's official website. "I've responded well from throwing, and I've responded the days after. It's time for the next step, and that's to get back on the mound." Burnett is 0-5 in his last six starts against the Brewers (61-78) despite a 3.10 ERA. He gave up one run in seven innings June 8, though the Pirates (83-55) suffered a 2-0 loss that began a 1-8 stretch against Milwaukee. Pittsburgh has won four of six since the Brewers completed their second straight three-game sweep of the Pirates last Thursday. Jung Ho Kang hit a grand slam Wednesday as Pittsburgh held on for a 5-4 win at Cincinnati. The Pirates extended their wild-card lead over Chicago to three games and remained 4 1/2 back of St. Louis in the Central. "We were kind of waiting for a big hit, and I feel like everyone was into that moment, (Kang's) at-bat," winning pitcher J.A. Happ said of Pittsburgh's first grand slam of the season. "Off the bat, I think a lot of guys knew he put the right swing on it." Milwaukee enters this series having dropped three of four after falling 5-2 at Miami on Wednesday while managing four hits. Nevin Ashley made his major league debut in place of injured catcher Jonathan Lucroy and had an RBI double that gave Milwaukee a two-run lead in the second inning. He could start again as Lucroy is expected to sit out with a mild concussion suffered on a foul ball to the mask Tuesday. "My phone's blowing up right now, friends and family," Ashley said. "I'm just happy to be up here and contribute. I got a pitch to hit. Luckily, I didn't miss it." Wily Peralta (5-8, 4.21) gets the ball on plenty of rest. He threw 39 pitches in two scoreless innings against Cincinnati on Saturday before a long rain delay cut his outing short. The right-hander gave up one run in seven innings to beat the Reds in his last full start Aug. 30, and he had the same line in a 1-0 loss to the Pirates the last time he faced them Sept. 21. Pedro Alvarez is 4 for 11 with two homers against Peralta.

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