Killer B's: Burres, bullpen blank Dodgers
Starter goes 5 1/3, then Taschner, Meek provide perfect relief
LOS ANGELES -- First, Jeff Karstens. Now, Brian Burres.
A Pirates club stung by so many abysmal starting performances this season has received two of the season's most effective in the past three days - -and from the unlikeliest of candidates, at that.
Twenty-two games into the season, Burres became the first Pittsburgh starter to take the mound and not allow a run in an outing. He set the stage for some masterful work by the bullpen, which helped preserve the Pirates' 2-0 win over the Dodgers on a blustery night at Dodger Stadium.
And all of a sudden, after losing eight of their first 10 road games, the Pirates have reeled off three straight.
Like Karstens, Burres began the year in Triple-A, where he was at the bottom of the rotation depth chart. But he was pushed into starting duty on Thursday when an injury to Chris Jakubauskas took another arm out of an already-bruised rotation. The left-hander gave up six runs in a four-inning spot start earlier this month. This time, he limited a Dodgers team -- albeit one without starters Manny Ramirez and Rafael Furcal -- to nothing.
It wasn't dominance, evidenced by the fact that Burres became the first starter to win a game all year with a final pitch count that contained more balls (47) than strikes (46). But it did the job.
"The first time he pitched for us, he hadn't pitched in a game all season," manager John Russell said. "It's just taken him a little while to get his feet on the ground. To come out with a win, he did a great job."
Mixing his cutter and slider particularly well, Burres retired the first eight hitters he faced. He'd continue to retire them when the lefty needed to most, too, but that's not to say the Dodgers, who had won just once in their previous seven games, were bereft of opportunities.
Burres squeaked out of trouble in the third after right fielder Garrett Jones committed a two-base error. In the fourth, the left-hander stranded three. He put two more on in the sixth before Jack Taschner left them there.
In eight chances with runners in scoring position, the Dodgers never got a ball out of the infield.
"When I started warming up, I felt pretty good," said Burres, who walked four and allowed four hits in 5 1/3 innings. "I made some good pitches when I needed to."
And with it, Burres snapped a personal eight-game losing streak that dated back to 2008.
"Wins always feel good," he said. "I knew it had been a while."
The pitching would only get better after Burres' exit. Taking advantage of the weather, Taschner used just 27 pitches to roll through the next eight hitters. The heavy air helped his two-seamer drop even more liberally than usual, and Taschner rode the pitch all night. And as the outs kept accruing with ease, Russell had no reason to make a change.
"They've got some good left-handed hitters in the lineup and we figured we'd see how long we could go with him," Russell said of Taschner. "He continued to throw the ball well."
"Burres set the tone," Taschner added. "It made it a lot easier out of the bullpen to come out and follow up a guy that just pounded the zone because he established the plate. All the credit goes to him. He made it easy for me to come in after him."
Evan Meek followed with a perfect ninth -- interrupted only by a fan running onto the field -- to pick up his first Major League save.
"For me there was a little more excitement, little more adrenaline," Meek said of the save situation. "Ninth inning -- you talk about it, you think about it. To actually happen was pretty awesome."
Meek had been told midgame to prepare for the possibility of closing after Russell decided to give closer Octavio Dotel the night off. Dotel had pitched two innings on Wednesday and in two of the past three days.
"We just can't keep running [Dotel] out there day after day," Russell said, emphasizing that there would be no permanent change in closer. "With what we had tonight, Evan was the freshest guy we had in the situation."
In all, the Pirates' bullpen set down all 11 hitters it faced.
"That was fun baseball, to play behind that, with that rhythm," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "It was a lot of fun."
The Pirates made their only substantial offensive noise in the first with Ryan Doumit again in the middle of things. With two on and two out, Doumit laced a hit up the middle off lefty Clayton Kershaw. The ball bounced to the right of center fielder Matt Kemp, who charged to make a backhanded grab and let the ball get past him. It rolled all the way to the wall.
"I should've [gone] and tried to catch it or backed off of it and let one run score and kept the other run at third base," Kemp said afterward. "I should've kept it in front of me. I don't know what else you want me to say. I missed it. That's it."
Both runners scored as Doumit extended his hitting streak to nine games with the triple. Pittsburgh managed just four singles in the next eight frames.
"With the wind blowing in, it was going to be a tough night to get hits," said Russell, whose team has now won six of its last eight games against L.A. "Score two and hang on."
With the win, the Pirates moved to 7-1 this season in games decided by two runs or less.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.