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A.J. Burnett’s first-half performance in his return to Pittsburgh was instrumental to the Pirates’ first-half success. And now, it appears as if he will be back for the stretch run.

Burnett threw a simulated game Friday at Busch Stadium and had positive returns. So much so, Burnett told’s Tom Singer: “I expect to be throwing soon for the Pirates, because I feel great.”

Burnett, who went on the disabled list on July 31 because of elbow inflammation, was expected to throw a bullpen session Sunday and meet with pitching coach Ray Searage, manager Clint Hurdle and GM Neal Huntington to figure out what’s next for the 38-year-old right-hander.

As it turns out, what’s next is Burnett will make his return to the Pirates rotation Thursday against the Brewers.

The return means the team will skip fellow All-Star Gerrit Cole’s turn in the rotation in an attempt to limit his work load. Fitting enough, the move also positions Cole to start a potential one-game playoff.

Burnett could pitch in the team’s upcoming series against the Cubs — possibly starting one of the games in the day-night doubleheader against the Cubs on Sept. 15.

Good news for the Pirates, but maybe not so much for opposing hitters.

For what it’s worth, hitters currently on the Cubs roster are slashing .333/.427/.447/.874 in 143 plate appearances against Burnett. Starlin Castro has hit Burnett to the tune of 16 hits in 34 at-bats (.471 average with three doubles). And while Anthony Rizzo is only 6-for-25 against Burnett, two of those hits have been home runs.

The Pirates were 11-7 in Burnett’s starts as he made his first All-Star team — one year removed from an 18-loss campaign with the Phillies. Burnett’s turnaround in his return to Pittsburgh has been highlighted by a  7-3 record, a 2.11 ERA/2.84 FIP/3.44 xFIP and 2.9 fWAR in the first half.

Burnett struggled in his three starts out of the break, going 1-2 with a 10.13 ERA in 16 innings. Opponents slashed .432/.476/.622/1.098 (.492 BABIP) in those starts after a first half in which he limited opposing batters to a .252/.307/.327/.635 slash with a more respectable .314 BABIP.

Burnett really has nothing to lose moving forward here. He has already banked an estimated $144.2 million in his career and has already explained why his 17th big league season will probably be his last.

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