When the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired A.J Burnett from the New York Yankees on February 19 this spring, the veteran right-hander had an opportunity to join a young ball club and become the ace of the staff. And that’s what he continues to do start after start after start.
“I’ve never had a 35-year-old ace on any staff I’ve ever had,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “This is a veteran guy that had an opportunity to come in and be an ace. This is just as enjoyable for me to have a guy like that leading your pack. And to watch what he’s doing not just on the day he gets the ball, but on the other four days, interacting with the starters and the ball club.”
Burnett was impressive on the bump for Pittsburgh in his 17th start of the season for the Pirates. The lone run that Burnett allowed to the Florida Marlins came in his second inning of work. Justin Ruggiano took a 3-1 fastball from the right-hander into the seats above the Roberto Clemente wall for a leadoff long ball.
After allowing the home run, Burnett scattered four hits before taking the mound in the eighth inning.
“I always feel like I have enough to finish,” Burnett said. “I gave up that hit that almost took my head off, so Clint probably said that was enough. I just give it all I can. I gave up the homer and put up zeros after that.”
Burnett retired his first batter, then gave up a double to Jose Reyes. The right-hander struck out Emilio Bonifacio looking, but Carlos Lee lined a base hit off the glove of Neil Walker at second base to put runners on the corners. Hurdle elected to go to Brad Lincoln from the bullpen, who whiffed Logan Morrison swinging on a 2-2 curve.
Overall, Burnett allowed one run on eight hits over 7.2 innings. He walked one, struck out three while throwing 104 pitches, 66 for strikes. Burnett continues to feel the love from the fans in Pittsburgh and raised his glove in the air after walking off the mound to a standing ovation.
“It’s great,” a choked up Burnett said after the game. “It’s been a great atmosphere to be a part of. We’ve got a good thing going here.”
“We pitched so well off the mound,” Hurdle said. “A.J. was very, very good today. Very efficient…He loves pitching here. He’s pitched so well at home and the crowd, again, when he comes off the mound tonight — that’s special.”
“What’s not dominant about giving up eight hits but only giving up one run? And that’s the solo-home run. That’s dominant. It all depends on your definition of dominant. There’s nights when he’s got the stuff working when he strikes people out. And tonight was a night where he just kept missing the barrel…They weren’t able to square him up.”
Burnett continues to make an impact both on and off the field with the Pirates. Pitching Coach Ray Searage said he’s been impressed with everything that Burnett has brought to the table since being acquired in a trade during spring training.
“It’s been off the chain with A.J.,” Searage said of Burnett in his first season with Pittsburgh. “I think that is a big feather in [General Manager] Neal Huntington’s cap, being able to get that guy over here. We have a proven veteran who’s been to the World Series, been to the playoffs, knows how to pitch and can relate and talk to the other guys.”
“He’s got a great personality inside the clubhouse and out on the field. He’s a gamer. Nothing really bothers him. He knows what he has to do. He takes care of the task at hand. Whatever he gives out there, that’s what he had that day. The influence that he’s had on J-Mac had been tremendous. It’s like big brother, little brother. I see the way they communicate and the way they react. It gives me a nice young feeling.”
Patience at the Plate Against Zambrano Pays off for Pirates
The Pirates didn’t even need a hit at the plate to see four runs touch home plate in the lengthy fourth frame. Carlos Zambrano struggled with his command and the Pirates were able to show impressive plate discipline.
“As the game went on we got better at it,” Hurdle said of their patience at the plate. “Early we bit at some balls down, especially in the first inning and then we kind of settled in. Just…discipline. We had to take it upon ourselves to show better discipline to get where we needed to get offensively in the box…You take advantage of it and find a way to put the runs on the board and that’s always good.”
Zambrano started the frame by hitting back-to-back Pirates. Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes each took their free passes and A.J. Burnett stepped to the plate to lay down a sac bunt. The right-hander dropped down a perfect one, but the Marlins catcher’s throw to first base flew into the stands allowing a run to score and Barmes to advance to third base.
Zambrano continued to struggle with his command and walked Alex Presley, the outfielder’s second of the game, to load the bases. The Pirates drove in their second run of the game with a sac fly to the warning track in left field from Neil Walker. Another walk — this time on five pitches to Andrew McCutchen – reloaded the bases. The right-hander walked Garrett Jones on a full count pitch to walk in his fourth run before getting pulled from the game.
“There’s no such thing as the little things in this game,” Hurdle said. “When you hold yourself to a high level of execution and you meet it, more often than not, good things happen. We were able to show some discipline at the plate, we were able to get a bunt down when we needed to.”
The Pirates were able to take advantage of Marlins reliever Chad Guadin, who walked his first batter Casey McGehee to plate the fourth run of the frame — all the while without Pittsburgh needing a hit. The strange inning ended after the next two batters struck out. 10 men came to the plate in the inning, eight before the club had an official at-bat.
Despite having the bases loaded, the players didn’t try too hard at the plate.
“Only if you get selfish.” Hurdle said. “You’ve got to get a pitch to hit and if not, put the bat down and give the opportunity to the next guy.”
“That was a pretty crazy inning to score the runs we did and the way we did,” Barmes, who drew an 11 pitch at-bat in the frame.
It was the first time in a Major League game that a team scored four runs without a hit since September 23, 1998 when Oakland scored four runs in the ninth inning without a hit against Seattle.
“Never,” Burnett said on whether he’s ever seen anything like that. “But that’s the game of baseball. That’s why we play.”
“Somewhere down the line, you’ve seen just about everything before but it’s been a long time that I’ve seen four runs sore without a hit,” Hurdle said.
Lincoln Notches First Save
Brad Lincoln picked up his first professional save on Saturday night after tossing 1.1 scoreless frames in the 5-1 win. Lincoln whiffed his first batter with two runners on in the eighth inning, then picked up two more strikeouts in the ninth leaving a runner stranded on first base.
“Honestly I didn’t realize I had that opportunity,” Lincoln said. “I was surprised I didn’t toss the ball up into the stands because I didn’t realize I was in that situation. To get that is definitely an honor, something I’ll remember and cherish. We’ll move on and do it again sometime.”
Lincoln did get to hang on to the ball and had it with him after the game. His 0.45 ERA in relief leads the Majors. The right-hander has allowed just one earned run in his last 18.2 innings of relief.
“Lincoln just came in banging the door,” Hurdle said. “Lincoln was spot on. Just what we needed from him tonight to finish.”
The Pirates bullpen have posted a 48-0 record when leading after eight innings.
“Z” Symbols Continue to Flash Around Pittsburgh
Manager Clint Hurdle has been his fair share of Zoltan symbols flashed to him in Pittsburgh. In Walgreens, at the grocery store, if a fan notices the skipper, they throw up the “Z”. But Hurdle received a different one recently.
While eating dinner at a restaurant a lady drew the hands on a napkin and handed it to him. Hurdle got a chuckle out of it and kept it. Hurdle’s son kept the napkin in shape of a “Z” and said he thought it was pretty cool.
“She wanted to make sure I had a copy of her art. That doesn’t happen everyday,” Hurdle said with a laugh.
“The first time I did it in a mirror I did it the wrong way. I was completely rebuffed by the boys in the dugout. That it’s right hand over left,” Hurdle described as the media corrected him during his pregame session. It’s left over right, Clint.
“See, I still don’t have it right so I stay away from it,” Hurdle said with a smile. “It’s their gig. I’ll throw one out there. I did get on [Jordy] Mercer in the cage just a little while ago because his first opportunity was the chop double he hit in Milwaukee. He kind of gave it [half effort]. Last night the double in the corner, it was big. He threw it out there. He was proud with it.”