This year, however, he's played a big role in helping their starting rotation turn things around.Looking to extend a career-best run by winning a fourth consecutive outing, Morton takes the mound for Pittsburgh as it opens a two-game set with the injury-riddled Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night at PNC Park.Morton finished last season 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA and was part of a Pirates rotation that ranked last in the majors in wins (34), ERA (5.28) and strikeouts (540).Pittsburgh (22-24), though, has benefited from a much-improved staff and had won a season-best four straight while its starters went 4-0 before Paul Maholm was tagged with the loss in a 2-0 defeat to Detroit on Sunday."We want to beat the odds," outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. "We want to be the team that turns things around. That's what I feel that we have, that's what I feel we're shooting for. And we're doing a pretty good job at it."The Pirates have allowed eight runs in their last five games, a stretch Morton (5-1, 2.62 ERA) started by limiting Cincinnati to five hits while posting his second career shutout in a 5-0 road win Wednesday."I thought he threw great," Reds first baseman and reigning NL MVP Joey Votto told MLB.com. "He's done everything a pitcher is taught to do. It doesn't look like he'll go back to the way he was last year. It looks like he's made real strides and has become a much better pitcher."The right-hander, who was acquired by Pittsburgh via trade from Atlanta in 2009, has won all three of his starts this month while recording a 2.05 ERA. He is 1-0 with a 1.74 mark in three home outings this year.Morton, who lost to the Braves last May 22 despite allowing just two earned runs in six innings, will look to add to his former team's recent road woes. After getting swept in a two-game series at Arizona, Atlanta lost two of three at the Los Angeles Angels, including Sunday's 4-1 defeat.The Braves (26-23) have been outscored 24-11 during their 1-4 stretch, and things aren't likely to get any easier without slugging right fielder Jason Heyward, who was placed on the 15-day DL on Sunday with recurring soreness in his right shoulder.Center fielder Nate McLouth, who spent four-plus seasons with Pittsburgh before getting shipped to Atlanta as the main piece in the Morton deal, left Sunday's affair with a strained left oblique. McLouth, mired in a 1-for-19 slump over his last six games, is uncertain to play."Teams that can survive the injury bug are going to be there at the end, and we're going through that right now a little bit," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But I think this team, mentally, is going to survive that."Braves starters recorded an 8.62 ERA in Anaheim, but a more effective performance seems likely from Jair Jurrjens (5-1, 1.80).Jurrjens had gone 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA in his first six starts prior to Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Diamondbacks, during which he gave up two runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.The right-hander, who has yet to allow more than two earned runs in any outing in 2011, has lost his last three meetings with the Pirates despite posting a 3.06 ERA. He hasn't faced them since 2009.
Jair Jurrjens is starting on Tuesday. All seven of his starts this season have been a quality start. Since 2000, the only Braves starter with a longer streak to start a season was Tim Hudson in 2007 (9 starts).