If they keep getting pitching performances like the one by A.J. Burnett in a 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night, manufacturing runs will prove to be much more important than big blasts.
Burnett came out on the short end of a pitching duel with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who two-hit the Pirates through seven innings and handed them their second straight shutout loss in the three-game series that ends Sunday.
"A.J.'s our ace, and he's been pitching like an ace," Pirates catcher Russell Martin said. "His attitude has been consistent, just the way he goes out there and competes every time. He keeps us in the game, and that's all you can ask of an ace.
"We've just got to score some runs for him."
The Pirates haven't homered through their first five games—tying the 1998 and 1967 squads for the club's longest drought from the start of a season since an 11-game drought in 1943. That year, Pittsburgh connected for only two homers in its first 26 games.
"We're going through a rough patch, but there's a lot of talent in the room and guys who have some pop. So I don't think we're worried about it," Martin said. "At the end of the year, I think our numbers are going to be where we need them to be. But right now, hitting home runs is the last thing we need to think about."
Burnett (0-2) is 1-7 with a 3.04 ERA over his last nine starts since the beginning of last September, receiving fewer than three runs of support in eight. The Pirates have been shut out four times during that stretch.
Now that he is Pittsburgh's No.1 starter, he will probably keep getting few runs to work with because he often faces the other team's ace.
"I want to go up against every ace. That's what I'm here for," Burnett said. "I'm not worried about run support. That's not my thing. That's beyond my control. That's when you get in trouble—when you start pointing fingers and start trying to make excuses. My job is to just keep my team in the game until the manager takes me out of the game."
Burnett allowed a run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings, walked four and struck out nine—including Matt Kemp all three times he faced him. The right-hander was coming off a 10-strikeout, 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the Pirates' opener.
"I left it on the field, I know that," Burnett said. "This was a pitcher's duel right there. You're going up against one of the best, so I just wanted to go out there and do what that kid was doing.
Carl Crawford drew a leadoff walk in the Dodgers' first and stole second, but was stranded there when Burnett struck out Mark Ellis, Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez. Crawford stole second again after his two-out single in the third, and Ellis drove him in with a ground single through the left side.
Kershaw (2-0) walked one and retired 17 consecutive batters after giving up a leadoff single in the first inning to Starling Marte. On Monday, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner threw a four-hitter against the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
"My fastball wasn't great tonight," Kershaw said. "I was reaching back and didn't have a whole lot in the tank, for whatever reason. But I was able to keep them a little bit off-balance and was able to get some big 3-2 strikeouts with the slider. They were very aggressive and trying to get their at-bats over with early, so you've just got to make quality pitches from the outset."
Brandon League followed Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen out of the Dodgers' bullpen and pitched a hitless ninth for his second save.
The Dodgers have won 11 of 12 against the Pirates and eight straight in Los Angeles. The only loss came in the final meeting of last season, when Garrett Jones hit a pair of three-run homers in support of Burnett's 10-6 victory.
NOTES: Kemp has struck out five times in five official at-bats against Burnett, and has walked twice. He grounded into an inning-ending double play with two on in the seventh against Mark Melancon, and is off to a 1-for-18 start. ... Entering this start, Burnett had allowed as many hits as he had strikeouts (1,981). ... Kershaw's first three pitches were put in play. Marte singled, was bunted to second by Neil Walker and got thrown out at third by shortstop Justin Sellers on Andrew McCutchen's fielder's choice grounder. Gaby Sanchez ended the six-pitch inning with a flyball. ... The Pirates were shut out 15 times last season, including three 1-0 losses.