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PIT@MIL: Burnett strikes out nine over 6 2/3 innings

The Pirates gave A.J. Burnett no help in his last start, when the team committed seven errors and Burnett dealt with four unearned runs in a loss to the Cubs.

Now Pittsburgh needs some help from Burnett -- in a big way.

For the second straight season, the Pirates are mired in a second-half slide, which once again is threatening to derail the club's quest for a National League Wild Card berth. Burnett, who has led the Bucs' rotation all season, has a chance to stop their five-game losing streak on Wednesday night in Cincinnati.

The Pirates already have dropped the first two of a three-game set against the NL Central-leading Reds and nine of 11 overall. They are 13-25 since the start of August and fell three games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot heading into St. Louis' game in San Diego on Tuesday night.

Burnett, who will oppose the Reds' Homer Bailey, is 15-6 with a 3.68 ERA this season and 3-0 with a 2.18 mark in three outings against Cincinnati.

But he also has slowed down along with the team, posting a 4.84 mark since tossing a one-hitter against the Cubs on July 31. The right-hander is in danger of going five starts without a win for the first time all season.

No recent loss carried more frustration than Friday's against Chicago, when Burnett's defense let him down in a five-inning outing.

"It just seemed like things snowballed on us," Burnett said. "Didn't go our way from the get-go. I didn't have swing-and-miss stuff when I was ahead in the count. I had ground-ball stuff."

The wins haven't been coming for Bailey either, despite the Reds' success. The righty is 10-9 with a 4.03 ERA for the season but has logged a victory once in his past nine starts.

On Friday against Houston, Bailey allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings and struck out nine for the second straight time but was undone by an Aroldis Chapman blown save.

"Our bullpen has been so solid all year," Bailey said. "Chapman is one of the best in the game right now. Sometimes, that's just the way it goes. There's nothing you can do about it."

Pirates: Walker getting close
Second baseman Neil Walker, who hasn't played since Aug. 26 due to lower back tightness, stepped in against Jeff Karstens in a simulated game on Tuesday and did so from his more-sensitive left side.

"He took some swings left-handed. I thought he'd just be taking," Karstens said. "He looked good."

Walker said he felt good, leaving open the possibility he could be available off the bench for the remainder of the Reds series. That might put him on target for a return to the lineup on Friday in Chicago, following Thursday's off-day.

Reds: Tired Chapman to get some rest
Chapman admitted Tuesday to feeling "a little fatigue" in his left arm of late, following two consecutive subpar outings that featured a decline in the lefty's typical triple-digit velocity.

The cause isn't pain, Chapman said, but rather fatigue. In response, the Reds will make him unavailable indefinitely, although Chapman believes the time frame will be "five days to a week."

"I was worried more about his command than I was his velocity," manager Dusty Baker said of Chapman, who walked his first two batters on Monday. "I talked to Dr. [Timothy] Kremchek [team doctor], talked to our medical staff and trainers, and they just said he was a bit fatigued. The guy throws 100 mph, he's going to fatigue something sooner or later."

Worth noting
• The season series, which the Reds lead 9-7, will continue Sept. 28-30 at PNC Park following Wednesday's finale in Cincinnati.

• Bailey is 1-2 with a 5.94 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this season. Comments