On Sunday, Pittsburgh Pirates’ starter A.J. Burnett made his first appearance in a game situation, throwing three innings during an intrasquad game at Pirate City. He was scheduled to throw his next game tonight in high-A Bradenton. Rather than stick around in Bradenton for the week, the right-hander had a detour to make, traveling up to Pittsburgh for Opening Day.
“I didn’t want to miss it,” Burnett said of the trip. “I made sure I was going to be there. I had a good ovation. It means a lot from the people there and I can’t wait to get on the field for them.”
Tonight Burnett made his first start against another team, making a rehab start for the Bradenton Marauders against the St. Lucie Mets. Burnett, who is returning from a broken orbital bone which he suffered during a bunting drill, pitched 4.2 innings, allowing a run on a walk and two hits, with five strikeouts. The right-hander threw 67 pitches, with 43 for strikes. After the start Burnett felt like he could have gone more.
“I could have stayed out there, no doubt,” Burnett said of the outing.
“I’m not the person who is going to complain. I’m going to let them know if I can’t go, and I’m going to let them know if I need more time.”
The right-hander threw all of his pitches, with a 90-94 MPH fastball, a sharp curveball, and a change-up that had some cutting action.
“I probably could have went out fastball-curveball tonight and done fair, but I’ve got pitches to work on, things to work on,” he said of his approach.
The secondary pitches both looked sharp, leading to several strikeouts and some dominant pitching in the early frames.
“Everything feels good right now,” Burnett said on the secondary pitches. “Need to work on getting it more in the zone early in the count, but they’re strikeout pitches right now.”
The outing was almost too easy. Burnett cruised through the first three innings, and didn’t allow a base runner until the fourth inning, giving up a leadoff single to left field. Burnett didn’t have any problems, responding with two strikeouts and a pop up. After two quick outs in the fifth, he gave up a walk, putting his second runner on base.
“I’m glad I had the walk there,” Burnett said. “I don’t want to walk guys, but to get out of the stretch. It’s a lot different out of the stretch and guys on. So everything that I really needed to work on tonight, we did.”
Burnett also got some practice fielding first base, with ground balls to first in the second, third, and fifth inning. Overall it was a start that included a bit of everything.
“Everything was good for the most part,” Burnett said of the start. “Got to work out of the stretch, cover first a few times. I was waiting for one of them to bunt, but they never did. So it was good to get back out there, get acclimated to the mound, game situation, things like that. Under the lights it’s a lot different.”
The current plan is for Burnett to stick around in Bradenton and pitch again in five days. That will be good news for the players on the Marauders. It’s typical for a major league player to treat the minor league team to a meal after a rehab start. Burnett asked around to see what the team wanted. The choice?
“We got Chipotle coming. Believe it!”
OTHER GAME NOTES
**Carlos Paulino had a hard hit ball to center field for his double in the second. The ball was hit straight away deep to center, and then hooked, making it a difficult play for the center fielder. Paulino tried to stretch it to a triple, but was thrown out due to a brief hesitation. He’s been hitting the ball hard the last two games, getting a lot of fly balls.
**Alex Dickerson has not been hitting well, with four ground outs tonight, including three to the right side of the infield.
**Gift Ngoepe made a nice play with Burnett in the game. A soft liner was hit to his right. Ngoepe made a slow dive, caught the ball in the air, and finished by turning a somersault.
**The lone run by the Marauders came when Gift scored on an Evan Chambers two-out double after Gift tripled with one out in the sixth. Gift hit a one hopper to the wall in right center, and beat out the third at third with his speed.
**In the plus arms department, Mel Rojas Jr. and Carlos Paulino both flashed a few nice throws tonight.
**Tyler Waldron had a rough outing. He entered the game in the sixth inning, giving up two runs on a walk and two hits in his first inning. He cruised through the seventh, but led off the eighth with a walk and a double. He allowed both runners to score, and was pulled before the end of the inning.