PITTSBURGH, Pa. — After another strong outing from veteran A.J. Burnett on Wednesday, the right-hander dropped his ERA down to 3.60 on the 2012 season. But because of one rough outing, Burnett’s impact on and off the mound is even better if you dig a little deeper.
Burnett got charged with 12 runs on 12 hits over 2.2 innings in St. Louis on May 2. Burnett entered game action with just a 1.38 ERA over his first two starts, which jumped to 8.04 after the rough outing. The 33-year-old became the first Pirates starter to allow 12 runs in a game since Glenn Spencer did so against the Chicago Cubs on April 24, 1932.
“That left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Burnett said. “I thought I was better than that game. I know I’m better than that. I’ve just tried to make it a point to go out and not let it happen again. It’s going to happen again. It’s not the first or last time those games happen, but I like pitching here. I feel comfortable here.”
Since that start, Burnett has not allowed more than two runs over those five outings. And if you remove that 12 run outing from Burnett this season, he’s allowed just eight earned runs over eight starts (47.1 innings) which is just a 1.53 ERA.
“I think this is a nice snapshot for him of a volume of games strung together since the Cardinal game that he’s been as effective as…I haven’t done homework on him every year, but the years I had to prep for him, you’d see some flashes of some games and you’d go, ‘wow. That’s good stuff’,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said.
“He’s been very consistent. I think that was one of the things that he was looking forward to — coming here and being the guy. Not in every environment you go to can you be the guy because they might already have guys. I think he was looking forward to that challenge at this point in time in his career. He’ handled it very well so far.”
Burnett said he enjoys being the guy.
“If you look at our staff, we’ve got a lot of No. 1 in my eyes,” Burnett said. “Everyone is throwing the ball really well. I did enjoy coming here and thinking that, and being a part of that. I took that role and I wanted that role. I’ve been around a long time. I’m no All-Star. I’m no Cy Young, but I’ve been through the battles. I know what it’s like to win. I know what it’s like to lose.”
Burnett held the Cincinnati Reds to just one run (unearned) on two hits over 7.0 innings. He walked two and struck out three batters while throwing 103 pitches, 65 strikes. At one point, Burnett retired 17 straight after allowing a leadoff double to start the first until the sixth inning before giving up his first walk of his outing.
The lone run that Burnett allowed on Wednesday was unearned. Zack Cozart hit a leadoff ground rule double that bounced into the seats in left center field to start the first inning. Drew Stubbs laid down a sac bunt, but Pedro Alvarez bobbled the ball putting runners on the corners. After getting a line out, Brandon Phillips hit a sac fly to left to plate the unearned run.
“A.J. was real good tonight. He kept the inning at one, which was very important at the time,” Hurdle said. “We needed a big outing from him tonight to match up with Cueto. You can watch a lot of ballgames here anywhere you go, you’re not going to see much better pitching than what you watched on the mound from both sides. That was a big league ball game. Everybody watched tonight and I don’t think there was any doubt about that. That was exciting.”
The Hit Collector Gives Pirates Eventual Win
Since being recalled on Friday, rookie first baseman Matt Hague has had a hit in each of his six straight starts. During that span, Hague is hitting .316 (6-for-19). Hague laced a two-run double into the gap in right center field in the sixth inning — his second career extra base hit, which gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead in the eventual win.
The at-bat was a clutch one for the rookie. After grounding out with a runner on third base and not pushing a run across the board, Hague was disappointed. But he was able to come through in the clutch in his third at-bat.
“I was just glad that I could come up with that hit because my first at-bat I didn’t do what I wanted to do. Tried to help my team. In my third at-bat I came through,” Hague said. “Just kind came outside myself. Trying to do too much in a situation where it calls on you to relax more and just trust your hands a little more. I was trying to calm the nerves down still, get comfortable and get a pitch to hit.”
“You know there’s a swing in there,” Hurdle said. “We’ve seen it — a good swing. You just want it to play. He had an opportunity for us earlier in the game in a 2-0 count and he made the soft out. He was as disappointed as anybody. His swing didn’t match up with the direction he wanted to take the ball. He wanted to take it to the big part of the field and he just got around the ball and hit it soft. I think that actually probably sparked his focus a little bit the rest of the night. That’s a big swing of the bat for us and shows some growth for a young man. That was a thing of beauty.”
Mercer Picks Up First Major League Hit in First Big League Start
Infielder Jordy Mercer picked up his first Major League hit in his first at-bat on Wednesday. Mercer took a 1-1 pitch from the Reds Johnny Cueto for a base hit to right field. Mercer went 1-for-4 on the day in his first start for in his professional career with Pittsburgh.
“It’s good to get out of the way,” Mercer said of getting his first Major League hit. “It’s something that you always dream about. It happened tonight and that’s pretty cool.”
“It was unbelievable. Just at a loss for words. Especially in the 9th when everyone got on their feet. That was pretty special…I’m just going out there and doing what I do. Just having fun and playing hard.”
Mercer also showed off his glove in the game. Burnett struck out just three, getting a lot of ground balls induced to short.
“He had a very nice game,”Hurdle said. “A variety of plays in the field. Knew when to take his time. Knew when to get the throw off. Got a big league hit in his first start. That’s exciting. That’s good stuff.”
Mercer was promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis on Tuesday and made his Major League debut with a pinch hit at-bat in the 8th inning. He grounded out to short.
Slaten to Remain in Bucco Bullpen?
Left-hander Doug Slaten made his Pirates debut on Tuesday night in the fifth inning. He pitched a perfect inning of relief. Hurdle has had just one lefty all season before Slaten was promoted in the bullpen. With the advantage of two lefties, could Slaten stay in the bullpen when reliever Juan Cruz returns from the restricted list?
“We’re taking it day by day. Time will tell,” Hurdle said.
Both Jared Hughes and Chris Resop had rough outings on Tuesday. For Hughes, however, it was the first he’s had in Pittsburgh. The rookie allowed three runs after allowing five straight singles. It snapped his 11.2 inning scoreless streak. Hughes entered game action with a rookie-leading 1.16 ERA. Lately Resop has struggled in relief. Resop allowed two runs yesterday and over his last 9.1 innings has allowed six runs.
Slaten was added to the Pirates roster after Cruz was placed on the restricted list. He is expected to return for the Milwaukee series (June 1-3). Slaten made some adjustments after spring training and while pitching with Triple-A. He posted a 0.36 ERA over 25.1 innings in relief.