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HOU@PIT: Burnett goes seven strong innings vs. Astros

Miller Park hasn't been kind to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Since opening in 2001, the Pirates have won just 32 of 102 games at the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Additionally, the Bucs, who haven't enjoyed a winning season in 20 years, have gone 28-72 against the Brewers over the last seven seasons, including an 8-46 record during that span at Miller Park.

But after winning the last three in a four-game series at PNC Park last week, the Pirates have an opportunity to continue to reverse the losing trend against their National League Central rivals. With a 4-3 lead in the season series, the Bucs begin a three-game series on Friday in Milwaukee.

"I thought they were really good last year and the year before," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke of his team's success against Pittsburgh. "We just played well against them."

The Brewers took the opener of the last series, 5-1, but managed just five runs in the final three games against Pirates starters Jeff Locke, Wandy Rodriguez and Francisco Liriano.

But while they certainly didn't show it against Los Angeles on Wednesday, the heart of the Brewers' lineup is red hot. Five hitters are batting over .320: Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki and Ryan Braun.

They will have to contend with Pirates ace A.J. Burnett, who leads the NL in strikeouts and has yet to surrender more than three earned runs in a start this season. But Burnett did lose his only other start against the Brewers on May 13, and is just 2-5 with a 4.87 ERA against Milwaukee over the last 10 seasons.

Burnett logged seven innings in his previous four starts.

"That's my approach, to go deep in games," Burnett said after allowing one run on five hits and four walks in a 4-2 loss to Houston last Sunday. "That's the biggest thing for me. I'm not a 'me' guy."

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker offered Burnett, along with some of the other clubhouse veterans, lofty praise, saying their mindset has been infectious in a relatively young clubhouse.

"They've been on good teams, they've been on bad teams," Walker said. "To have their knowledge in here, but to watch them go about their business, to watch them prepare -- All those things help a team with a lot of younger guys on it."

Marco Estrada will oppose Burnett, also his May 13 opponent, in Friday's opener. Estrada bested Burnett in their last duel for a 5-1 victory. Burnett pitched seven innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits while Estrada, who also logged seven frames, was tagged with one run on three hits and one walk.

Estrada picked up one of the Brewers' only two victories on their 10-game road trip, but struggled against the Cardinals in his last start, allowing four runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.

The right-hander has been strong against the Pirates over his career, winning four of seven starts against zero losses and a 2.17 ERA over 49 2/3 innings.

"I've pitched against them a lot, so I kind of know a lot of these guys," Estrada said after his win at Pittsburgh on May 13. "But here at PNC it's a pretty big ballpark and I'm more of a fly-ball pitcher, I think. Some balls were hit pretty well, whereas in Milwaukee they were probably out, but here they were camped underneath them and they were just pop flies. Maybe it's the confidence that I know that I can throw more strikes and not be afraid of a home run."

Brewers: Lohse bumped from Pirates series
Brewers starter Kyle Lohse will miss Saturday's start against the Pirates with irritation in his right elbow.

Manager Ron Roenicke said Lohse began feeling discomfort two or three starts ago and has been recovering slower than usual between starts.

"The way it was going with the muscle and the spots where it's at, you don't want to mess around too much with it," Lohse said. "You're playing with fire if you keep dealing with that issue. We all came to the conclusion that it's the best thing to do. Just get it to calm down for one start and get back out there."

Mike Fiers will replace Lohse in the rotation.

Pirates: Bullpen continues to impress
Justin Wilson and Mark Melancon have been excellent this season with 1.29 and 0.75 ERAs, respectively.

Closer Jason Grill lowered his ERA to 1.25 on Thursday and improved to 19-for-19 in save opportunities this season.

"The teams I've been on, the bullpen is its own group," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's its own country. For all the right reasons -- short term memory, and more often than not, they're never going to not take the ball. You've got to take the ball from them."

Worth noting
• In 28 plate appearances against Burnett, Ramirez is hitting .179 with no extra-base hits or walks.

• The Pirates are in the midst of a stretch of 16 games in 16 days.

• Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy went 1-for-4 on Wednesday, one day after a 3-for-4 performance, doubling his hits total over the last 10 games amid a recent slump.

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