Looking at the stat line, A.J. Burnett didn’t have a terrible start. He gave up just two runs on five hits and three walks in five innings, while striking out seven. Looking beyond the stats, that start was definitely not what the Pirates needed right now.
The bullpen is currently over-worked. That has been a trend early in the season, and it is leading to almost all of the relievers being on pace for career highs in innings. Tom Bragg wrote about that this afternoon, projecting out the current pace for each reliever. On top of that, the bullpen had to combine for six innings on Sunday, so a long start from Burnett would have been helpful.
Instead, the right hander struggled with his control, walking three and throwing just 59 strikes in 101 pitches. The runs even came from control problems. A wild pitch scored Jonathan Pettibone in the third, after the opposing pitcher led off the inning with a walk. In the fourth, Burnett hit Jimmy Rollins with a pitch while the bases were loaded to bring in his second run.
The result was that Jared Hughes had to pitch an inning, and Vin Mazzaro had to go two innings to close out the game. Had the Pirates been winning, then they would have had to turn to either Jason Grilli for the third game in a row, or Mark Melancon, who didn’t throw yesterday but went back to back days before that.
The Pirates did keep the game close, despite the struggles and a few jams from Burnett. Pedro Alvarez hit a solo homer in the second inning, putting the Pirates up 1-0 at the time. The blast was a line drive home run that got out of the ballpark in a hurry. The second run of the game came from a solo home run by Russell Martin, who crushed one to left field to tie the score at 2-2 in the fifth inning.
Hughes gave up a run in the sixth inning, giving Philadelphia the go-ahead and eventual winning run. The Pirates threatened in the ninth inning with a one out Garrett Jones double, but Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez couldn’t bring Jones in to score.
How Taxed is the Bullpen?
Even worse than the loss is the fact that the bullpen once again didn’t get a break. They can usually rely on that when Burnett is on the mound. The current state of the bullpen workload is as follows:
Jason Grilli – Threw two days in a row prior to today.
Mark Melancon – Went two days in a row on Friday and Saturday.
Jared Hughes – Has now thrown two days in a row.
Tony Watson – Threw two days in a row prior to today.
Justin Wilson – Threw 1.1 innings on Sunday. Threw 6 innings total last week in three appearances.
Jeanmar Gomez – Threw 2.1 innings on Sunday.
Vin Mazzaro – Threw two innings tonight, two days after throwing on back to back days.
It’s safe to say that Grilli and Melancon would be available tomorrow. Watson could also be available. But if the Pirates need a long reliever, they’re probably going to have to turn to Justin Wilson again, as Mazzaro was used tonight. Wilson has been going every three days in a multi-innings role, so this would be a bit shorter, with one fewer day of rest. Based on previous starts, you’d rather have a long reliever available for a Jeff Locke start, rather than an A.J. Burnett start. Now would be the perfect time for Locke to start figuring out major league hitters.