PITTSBURGH, PA. — The Pirates starting pitchers so far this season have been impressive. But two more arms could be making their way to join the club as well.
On Sunday, Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said that right-hander A.J. Burnett could be ready to join the Pirates by the end of April. Also, righty Charlie Morton, who is making a rehab start on Monday, could be with Pittsburgh even sooner.
The 35-year-old Burnett, who was placed on the disabled list due to right eye surgery, made a rehab start for High-A Bradenton on Friday. While throwing 68 pitches, Burnett cruised over his scheduled four innings, and because of his pitch efficiency, finished by tossing 4.2 innings.
“It was great to see A.J. have to go back out there for the extra 2/3 of an inning,” Huntington said. “He was scheduled to go four, or 65-70 pitches. He had to go back out for the fifth inning. He felt healthy. He had to move off the mound a couple times. Felt like he threw some good breaking balls. Felt like there was some rust on some other ones. He got his work in, got his pitch count up. Anther great step in the process for A.J.”
Burnett, who was in Pittsburgh on Opening Day, received a warm welcome by the sell out crowd at PNC Park. After announcing his name while the team was being introduced prior to first pitch, Burnett received a standing ovation from the fans.
“I can tell you that he’s very appreciative of the welcome he got when he came on Opening Day,” Huntington said. “The fans and the applause he got, it hit him. And he’s excited to get down here and pitch for these fans. And do great things for this group.”
Burnett is scheduled to make another rehab start for Bradenton on the 11th. Huntington said they will keep his rehab start in Florida to stay in the warm weather.
“We’re still focused on pitch count at this point in time,” Huntington said. “We’d like to get him over 100 pitches in the minor leagues before we ask him to do it at the Major League level. If everything continues to progress as is, we still should see him before the end of the month.”
Morton, 28, started the season on the disabled list in order to build up his innings and pitch count. The righty was behind the other starters in the rotation due to offseason left hip surgery. Morton is set to make a rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday night. It quite possibly could be his last start before rejoining the club in San Francisco when the Bucs need a fifth starter on April 14.
Hague Has Clutch First Major League Hit
Infielder Matt Hague proved to be clutch for the Pirates during the club’s 5-4 walk off win against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. Hague, 26, was called upon in a pinch-hit situation with the game on the line — literally.
Hague stepped to the plate with two outs to pinch-hit for Pedro Alvarez in the bottom of the 8th inning. With two outs, and a two runners on, Hague knocked a RBI single into left field to pick up his first hit and run batted in to tie the game at 4.
“Going up there, hearing the loud fans, I was a little nervous,” Hague said. “It was fun. I was trying to put a good at-bat together there. Luckily I got a pitch, hit it alright. It found a hole. I’ll take it.”
“I just think he’s in a position now where he can give us good at-bats,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said on Hague. “He’s not afraid to hit with two strikes. He’s not afraid to take a pitch early in the count if it’s not what he’s looking for. He’s got the ability to take a really bad swing, then forget about it the next swing. At least from what I’ve seen in the short look that I’ve had. That’s the reason we held him. For opportunity to score runs. He was able to get a big hit for us.”
Hague, who made his Major League debut on Friday, where he went 0-for-3 against the Phillies, said he kept a slower heartbeat at the plate in his at-bat on Sunday.
“I really just try and make them come to me, instead of going to get a pitch, trying to do too much on it,” Hague said. “[Sunday] when I started, I was really nervous, and I tried slowing it down. Just trying to stay within myself. Luckily I came through.”
Tough Decision to Pinch-Hit Alvarez
Hague may have picked up his first hit and RBI by pinch-hitting for Alvarez, but Hurdle said the decision to do so was tough. Alvarez, the Bucs 2008 first-round pick, struggled during spring training, but recently has looked better at the plate. The third baseman removed his toe tap.
Alvarez crushed a 2-1 changeup for a home run in the fifth inning of Sunday’s win. The ball left PNC Park and bounced on the walkway in front of the river. It marked Alvarez’s first hit and long ball of the season (was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts prior to that at-bat).
Hurdle decided to pinch hit for the left-handed bat in Pedro Alvarez for the righty in rookie Hague. Although a tough decision, Hurdle said, it worked out in his favor.
“He was one of the first guys cheering when Hague took his place and drove in the tying run,” Hurdle said. “If you’re going to have a good ball club it takes 25 men throughout the course of the season.”
“It’s not something that’s a lay-up in my mind. Say, ‘Okay. This is it. We’re going this way.’ because you want to give opportunities to a young man to buy more real estate, to improve, build on some traction that he might have. I think you want to be an optimist, but you’ve got to be a realist. You got to make sure you’ve paid attention to what transpired before hand. I felt our best bet for the team at that time was to make that move. I don’t envision that Pedro is a guy that’s going to be pinch-hit for a lot in his career. But I think initially to get his feet on the ground, get him moving forward in a good way. We’ll pick our spots. ”
Down On The Farm
- Infielder Chase d’Arnaud is okay after taking a pitch off the helmet in Saturday’s game for Triple-A Indianapolis. Huntington said the reason to remove him from the game was just as a precaution.
“Trying to be safe then sorry, we did remove him from the game,” Huntington said. “We will evaluate [Sunday], and evaluate as we move forward. At this point in time, it’s just precautionary.”
- Right-hander Ryan Beckman, who I reported on Saturday was pulled from the game during his outing, was diagnosed with a Flexor pronator strain. Beckman came in to pitch for the Altoona Curve and after throwing his eighth pitch, grabbed his right elbow. After being checked out by trainers, he was removed from the game.
“How long it will take, we just got to get the soreness out of there, get him back on the mound,” Huntington said. “At this point in time, just a flexor pronator strain with no real update in terms of how long he will be out.”
- Right-hander Jameson Taillon made his 2012 debut for High-A Bradenton on Saturday. The Bucs first round pick in 2010, tossed 3.2 innings and allowed two runs on two hits. He walked two and struck out six. Taillon was removed early due to pitch count.
“Obviously we would have liked him to get deeper,” Huntington said. ” He hit his pitch count in the fourth inning yesterday. Part of it’s the six strikeouts, part of it is deep counts. There’s two elements to a pitch count at the minor league level. One is health. The other one is efficiency. It forces guys to make pitches and to get outs early in the count. In Jameson’s case, he had a hard time doing that last night. He’s got tremendous stuff. He’s had a good spring for us. It’s a first building block. Obviously the six strikeouts are nice. It shows that he was getting some swing and misses and locking some guys up. But we’d like him to get deeper on  pitches then he did”