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STL@PIT: Burnett hurls seven scoreless innings

A.J. Burnett's debut with the Pirates couldn't have gone much better. He'll have a chance for a strong encore Friday night against the Braves at Turner Field.

Coming off a series of shaky rehab outings, Burnett was excellent Sunday against the Cardinals, striking out seven and walking two as he gave up only three hits over seven shutout innings.

"I don't know what was different; I wish I could tell you," Burnett said after that start. "It's different up here. Some guys are able to turn on a switch, and I've been around and I've been playing for a long time, and I think coming up here was my time to turn my switch on."

While his performance helped calm some nerves, it also did nothing to counter the prevailing expectation that the exodus from New York and the challenging American League East would benefit him.

"It's a win-win for both of us," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Look at the environment he was in -- he was one of the guys, probably somewhere in the middle. Here, based on his experience and resume, he's on top. He's comfortable in this environment, and in his own skin. He's a tireless worker. He's not going to put up with somebody else not carrying his share of the load."

If Burnett can do his part, the burden will then rest on the Pirates lineup to put enough runs on the board to come out with a win. That's been Pittsburgh's biggest challenge so far this season, but James McDonald found reason to believe pitching under those tight circumstances will actually help in the long run.

"It sharpens us," McDonald said after taking a tough no-decision Wednesday. "When the bats do catch fire, we'll have the same mindset and it'll be that much easier."

Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson will do his part to make sure the Pirates' bats don't catch fire Friday. Hanson is coming off a strong outing against the D-backs in which he allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings and picked up his second win of the season. He retired the last 13 hitters he faced, crediting his fastball command and breaking pitches for his success.

"We had a good game plan coming in here," Hanson said Saturday. "We came up with a good plan on how to attack hitters and we've been doing a good job of that, going out there and executing that."

Pirates: Burnett making an impact with McDonald
• While injuries have limited what Burnett can do on the field for the Pirates, Hurdle hasn't hesitated to ask the veteran right-hander to serve as a mentor off the field. That's been particularly evident with McDonald, who has taken advice and encouragement from Burnett already this season.

"A.J.'s been talking to me a lot about mental preparation," McDonald said Wednesday. "After I came out today, he said my mental approach was a lot better. He liked my focus."

• Pedro Alvarez has had a rough start at the plate this season, with a .156 average and .174 on-base percentage and only seven hits. But four of those hits have gone for homers, and two of them came in Wednesday's doubleheader split against the Rockies.

Braves: Demoted Jurrjens looking to get back on track
• The Braves optioned pitcher Jair Jurrjens to Triple-A Gwinnett earlier this week, looking to get him back on track and waiting for him to prove that he can be successful against Major League competition. With his demotion, Randall Delgado will remain in Atlanta's rotation and make his next start Saturday.

Jurrjens, 26, entered last year's All-Star break with a 1.87 ERA but posted a 6.87 mark in 11 starts after that, failing to regain his velocity after dealing with a right knee injury in the last few weeks of the 2010 season.

"It wasn't the JJ we've seen in the past," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You can tell from his frustrations on the mound the past three or four starts.

"It's up to him," Gonzalez added. "He needs to buy into whatever we're going to ask him to do to get back up here. He's going to have to buy into it and trust us."

Worth noting
• The Bucs and Braves will play this early series, then won't meet again until October for the final three games of the season.

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