The Pittsburgh Pirates enter game action on Wednesday with a team ERA of 2.97, which ranked No. 6 best in the Majors, fifth in the National League. Over the 11 games so far this season, Rod Barajas has been behind the dish starting in eight of those games manning the club’s pitching staff. One he was pretty much unfamiliar with before spring training.
“He went out of his way to spend a lot of his time with [backup catcher Michael] McKenry early in spring, because he had a greater volume of information on our pitching staff,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Just goes to show you the humility involved. Here’s a veteran who’s going up to a player without a full year in the big leagues and asking him for help, advice, and to break down the pitchers. [He’s] smart, without ego. Just another guy in that clubhouse that’s just trying to make a huge difference for us on the field.”
McKenry joined the Pirates in June of the 2011 season after the team took hits to the catching, needing eight different catchers last year. Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo, Chris Snyder, Dusty Brown, Eric Fryer, Wyatt Toregas, McKenry and Matt Pagnozzi caught for the Bucs — the most catchers used by Pittsburgh in one season since 1953 (also eight). Of those eight, only McKenry is currently in the Majors with the Pirates. Fryer is the primary catcher with the Indianapolis Indians and Toregas is with the organization as a player coach.
Barajas spent a lot of time during spring training getting to know his new staff.
“They’ve done great,” Barajas said. “This isn’t an overpowering staff. It’s not a staff where you’re going to have two guys strike out 200, but these are guys that know how to pitch.”
One pitcher Barajas is familiar with is right-hander A.J. Burnett, who is currently on the disabled list. Barajas caught Burnett during the 2008 season when both were playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. Burnett, who underwent right eye surgery, is expected to make his final rehab start on Saturday, and could be rejoining the club soon.
“He brings stability,” Barajas said on what Burnett brings to the club. “This guys going to go out there and he’s going to pitch every five days. He’s got that aggressive mentality. He’s going to go after hitters. He’s just intense. He’s going to bring a lot of knowledge to the young guys. The last time I caught him he did real well in Toronto. Hopefully we can get back to that.”
The Pirates signed the 36-year-old catcher to a one-year deal in November with a club option for the 2013 season. Barajas has played in over 1,000 games in the Majors over the span of 11 seasons in the big leagues.
“He still felt that he could give us good quality work behind the plate, and that he could provide some good offensive punch,” Hurdle said. “The experience he has behind the plate, receiving. If you look at the list of pitchers that he’s caught in his major league career, there’s not many guys, or different types of pitchers that he hasn’t had the opportunity to work with. The data base is thick, it’s thorough. He’s been given opportunities to catch elite pitchers. Which shows some significance of what other people thought about his ability to do the job that he’s done behind the plate. He still wanted to play, and he wanted to be a Pirate. That’s important to us. We wanted to bring in men that wanted to be a Pirate.”
“He’s got a very slow heartbeat. He’s seen a lot of things in the game. Not too many a-ha moments for Rod. Whether you’re playing well, not playing well, whether somebody’s struggling, how you try to pick up individuals when they’re not doing well, how you slow down a guy that’s doing well that might really be feeling it. All those different experiences that he’s worked through. He’s got a great sense of humor. I’m a big fan of humor. I love to have fun. He likes to have fun. We need to be reminded from time to time that we’re playing a game. And he’s good at that as well in the clubhouse.”
Although Barajas has gotten off to a slow start this season, the veteran has just two hits — both doubles — in 27 at-bats (.074 average) with two walks, he does provide the team with some pop at the plate. Barajas hit 16 homers over 98 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011. The catcher has hit at least 10 long balls in each of his last eight seasons, the most (21) coming in 2005 with Texas.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I expect to do this, or I expect to do that,” Barajas said. “What I do expect every now and then is to chip in a little bit. My job is to work with the pitchers, handle the pitchers, be back there defensively every single day, but at the same time, you got to pitch in somehow. Getting a rally started, that’s nice. That’s all I’m looking for. Every now and then kind of help these guys out, and try to make the offense’s job a little easier by chipping in myself.”
Burnett to Make Final Rehab Start
Right-hander A.J. Burnett joined the club in Arizona on Tuesday after making his third rehab appearance on Monday. The 35-year-old threw 81 pitches, the team wanted him to throw between 80-85, over 4.0 innings. He allowed five runs on seven hits with four walks and no strikeouts.
Burnett is expected to throw a side session on Wednesday in front of pitching coach Ray Searage, travel with the club back to Pittsburgh, then make a rehab start for Double-A Altoona on Saturday. Barring any set backs, it should be Burnett’s final rehab start before rejoining the Pirates and making his debut in the rotation.
Karstens Removed From Game With Injury
Right-hander Jeff Karstens was removed from his third start of the 2012 season after the top of the 2nd inning due to right shoulder inflammation, the team said. Karstens pitched the first inning, where he allowed two runs on three hits. The righty came to bat in the top of the 2nd frame, but was replaced by reliever Jared Hughes in the bottom half of the inning.
The team will evaluate Karstens when the team returns to Pittsburgh, and the club will provide an update on his condition after meeting with the team doctors.
Hanrahan Day-to-Day With Injury
Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan was not used the save situation during the club’s 5-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday. The right-hander is experiencing some tightness in his right hamstring. Hanrahan suffered the injury after throwing the final pitch in his first save of the season against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, the team said.
Hanrahan is listed as day-to-day. Right-hander Juan Cruz was used by Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle for the save on Tuesday.