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PIT@WSH: Morton solid through 6 2/3 to earn the win

The Pirates may be atop the National League Central, but don't expect manager Clint Hurdle's eyes to be glued to the standings at this point in the season. Although the wins keep coming, his focus hasn't changed.

""It doesn't help [to watch the standings]," Hurdle said. "If my focus is there, it's really not where it should be. So that's kind of the way I go with it."

The Pirates will look to extend their division lead over the Cardinals in Thursday's series finale. Pittsburgh has shut out St. Louis four times in their last eight games at PNC Park and held the Cardinals to just three runs in the first three games of this five-game series.

Although the Bucs' pitching has been excellent this season, there's bound to be some regression sooner or later. It's just a matter of its severity that remains to be seen.

"There very well could be dips," Hurdle said, " [since] 162 games is a long time. Sometimes you can mix and match to help that out. But we've been pretty fortunate that it's been pretty much the bullpen in one group, although we've gone through 11 starters. It's been a very constant group. They help us every night, put us in a position to win."

The Cardinals will be fighting to regain the ground in the division they ceded to the Pirates by starting a 10-day, 11-game road trip with seven consecutive losses, the first four to Pittsburgh.

"I think both teams have been playing well the whole year," said Cardinals third baseman David Freese. "For the most part, every team goes through what we're going through right now over the course of six months. It's frustrating that it's here now, but good clubs turn it around eventually. The sooner, the better."

Taking the hill for St. Louis will be right-hander Joe Kelly, who pitched well enough in his last three starts to warrant an extended stay in the rotation. He has surrendered just one run in his last two outings.

"He did everything he could possibly do to earn that opportunity," manager Mike Matheny said.

Opposing Kelly will be right-hander Charlie Morton. Morton surrendered four runs (three earned) on nine hits in five innings of a 7-4 win in Miami his last time out. But despite the win, he was disappointed with his command and his inconsistent sinker.

"I don't think I had very good command," Morton said. "There were some pitches I'd love to have back in terms of command and execution, things like that. Stuff was average, but they picked me up."

Hurdle described Morton's stuff as "come and go" but was pleased with his effort, which included a season-high-tying six strikeouts.

"He gave us everything he had to get through five, and we had the lead," Hurdle said. "So from that point, him battling and getting through was good to see."

Cardinals: No structural damage in Molina's knee
An MRI performed on Wednesday revealed no structural damage in catcher Yadier Molina's right knee, and the Cardinals are optimistic that he will return to action at the end of his 15-day stint on the disabled list.

Until then, backups Tony Cruz and Rob Johnson will share catching duties. Cruz started on Wednesday and went 0-for-4 with an RBI groundout.

"There's no replacing what [Molina's] done and what he can do," Cruz said. "Yadi is an MVP-caliber guy, and he's important to our ballclub. But I feel like we have a good enough team to move forward until he gets back. I'm going to go in there and do what I can to help the team win."

Pirates: McKenry's season over after surgery
Catcher Michael McKenry underwent season-ending surgery on his left knee on Tuesday in Los Angeles. McKenry tore the lateral meniscus in the knee while sliding into second base on Saturday in Miami, but he remained in the game with Russell Martin unavailable after tweaking his knee the night before.

"It hurt, it really hurt, I'm not going to lie to you," McKenry said. "It could have caused some extra problems, but it doesn't matter. Russ' knee was barking, and I had to take one for the team."

Worth noting
• In a Minor League deal, the Pirates acquired utility man Robert Andino from the Mariners for a player to be named or cash considerations. He will be assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis.

• In addition to Molina, the Cards placed outfielder Shane Robinson on the DL on Wednesday with a strained right shoulder. In a corresponding move, St. Louis called up outfielder Adron Chambers and first baseman/outfielder Brock Peterson.

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