Pirates Notebook: Young Arms Learning from Burnett

A.J. Burnett

Right-hander A.J. Burnett has been solid in his two starts with the Pirates so far this season. After coming off the disabled list on April 21, he blanked the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park by tossing seven scoreless innings, holding them to just three hits while striking out seven. In his second outing with Pittsburgh on Friday, Burnett allowed two runs on six hits over 6.0 innings with eight whiffs.

The 35-year-old, who has over 12 seasons in the big leagues, has not only been impressive on the field, but he is also helping out some of the young arms in the rotation.

“He’s in a very mentoring mode,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Win appropriate. He’s not going outside of himself to do it. He is taken the task, a couple guys in there that we asked him to lead the days when they’re not pitching. He’s a tireless worker. Preparation that he does the other four days is what you look for in a starter, and especially when we got some young guys trying to figure some things out, as far as routines ad regimens. He’s not going to put up with somebody else not carrying their share of the load.”

One of those starters is right-hander James McDonald. Following his brilliant performance on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, where he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, Burnett gave him some advice.

“A.J. has been talking to me a lot about mental preparation and things like that,” McDonald said. “He was telling me my mental approach [on Wednesday] was a lot better. He liked my focus.”

The trade from New York to Pittsburgh will let Burnett get a fresh start that perhaps he needed. Coming from a huge pressure situation with the Yankees, where he signed a five-year contract and posted a 4.79 ERA over the three seasons, Burnett has a new chapter with the Pirates.

“I think this is a win-win situation for him as well, as us,” Hurdle said. “I think if you look at the environment that he was in, one of the guys probably in the middle. Here based on experience and some things he’s done, his resume, he’s on top. Longevity, big games, productivity, challenges, adversity, all of it, he’s got volumes of experience. I think he’s comfortable in this environment. I think he’s comfortable in his own skin.”


Hanrahan Continues to Dominate on the Mound

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan has allowed just two runs on two hits over his seven appearances so far this season. Both runs came in his outing in San Francisco on April 13, when he gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the eighth inning. After retiring his next two batters, Hanrahan gave up a two-run homer to Aubrey Huff in the Pirates 5-0 loss to the Giants.

“For the first five months of the season [in 2011], I don’t think we could have seen him any better,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “For him to replicate that, that would be awesome. I think some fatigue set in late.”

During his first save situation of the season on April 17, Hanrahan injured his right hamstring during the final pitch of the inning. It took Hanrahan 31 pitches to end the ninth frame. He went on to miss six games following that outing. But since healthy, Hanrahan has tossed three perfect frames with five strikeouts.

“We have a lot of confidence from Joel [when he] takes the mound in the 9th inning,” Hurdle said. “As does he. I just think it was a little nervousness out in the first save situation. Obviously extended himself to the point where he slightly injured himself. Now getting back into the routine, knowing that he’s physically capable of doing the work. I think everything is going to get to a much better place with his pitch efficiency.”

The right-hander has gone 4-for-4 in save chances this season and 44-for-48 since the beginning of last year. Hanrahan’s 91.7 save percentage since last year ranks sixth in the Majors behind Jose Valverde (98.1), John Axford (96.2), Ryan Madson (94.1), Jonathan Papelbon (92.7) and Andrew Bailey (92.3).

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