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STL@PIT: Burnett knocks down liner, makes the play

With their first win in August on Saturday night, the Pirates upped their lead in the National League Central to 1 1/2 games. Manager Clint Hurdle can feel the excitement building in the clubhouse.

"It's hotter," Hurdle said. "It does feel different. You've got some time in. You've been through some battles. You've experienced more things. You're probably more seasoned of a club. You've dealt with some adversity. You've had some guys get hot, some guys get not hot. The bonding this is more significant now than when we broke in together and started."

Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett will look to pick up his first win at PNC Park since May 3 on Sunday afternoon in the rubber game against the Rockies. With eight quality starts in 10 outings at home, it's not that Burnett has pitched poorly. The wins just haven't come.

Burnett missed nearly a month with a torn right calf earlier this season. He has a career-best 2.86 ERA through 19 starts, but only four wins.

"It's in the back of your head a little bit," Burnett said. "But, I'll say it again -- I'm not here for numbers. I'm here to do what I can to get this team to October, that's the bottom line. If four is all I've got at the end of the year and we're going to the playoffs, I'm cool with that. It will mean I kept the team in games, and that's my job."

Juan Nicasio will take the mound for the Rockies as he looks to bounce back from a rough start against the Braves last Tuesday. Nicasio has been stellar in his career when pitching into the seventh inning. Of his 44 career starts, he's completed six innings 20 times. In those 20 outings, he is 9-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 17 quality starts.

After giving up one run and striking out 15 batters over his previous 19 innings, Nicasio was crushed by Atlanta in an 11-3 blowout.

"It was a bad game," Nicasio said. "Everybody has a bad game. I'll work hard for next time."

Colorado has lost five of its last six games and is slowly slipping out of the NL postseason picture. At 52-60, the Rockies are 9 1/2 games out in both the Wild Card and NL West standings.

Pirates: Pitchers limiting homers at home
Among the Pirates' many strengths this season has been their pitching staff's remarkable ability to prevent opposing hitters from belting home runs at PNC Park. In their past 27 home games, including Saturday, the Pirates have allowed just five home runs.

At its recent rate, with 25 home games remaining, Pittsburgh would finish its 81-game home schedule with 29 homers allowed. The Major League record is 31, set by the 1979 Houston Astros.

"We've been stingy, all right," Hurdle said. "We've kept the ball down, made pitches, worked to the big part of the ballpark. That's one of the strengths our pitchers have had."

• The Pirates will not alter their rotation around Monday's day off, which is their first since the All-Star break. The rotation will stay in turn and each starter will make his next start with an extra day of rest.

Rockies: Cramps halt Oswalt's sim game
Veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt has been on the disabled list since July 7 with a strained left hamstring, but he was making good progress until the hamstring cramped up during a simulated game on Saturday. Oswalt faced just two batters before ending the session.

"When I first hurt it, they told me it would be a little while to get back -- it wasn't just a mild strain, It was a pretty significant strain," Oswalt said. "I was hoping to be on the field in five weeks, but it's going to be a little bit later than that."

Oswalt, who was 0-4 with a 7.64 ERA before the injury, had hoped to throw the simulated game, pitch once on a Minor League rehab assignment and then return to the rotation. It is now unclear when, or if, he will return this season.

• Michael Cuddyer returned to the Rockies' lineup on Saturday after missing two games to be with his wife, who was ill. Cuddyer went 1-for-4 with an RBI single.

Worth noting
• The Pirates have had at least one extra-base hit in each of their past 50 games, their longest such streak of the season. They've recorded at least one extra-base hit in all but three of their first 110 games.

• With Troy Tulowitzki (20 home runs) and Carlos Gonzalez (26), the Rockies are one of four Major League teams -- and the only NL club -- with two 20-homer players. The Orioles (Adam Jones and Chris Davis), Rangers (Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz) and Blue Jays (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) are the others.

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