Why Did Clint Hurdle Delay Pulling A.J. Burnett?

A.J. Burnett was left in for too long in the third inning. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett was left in for too long in the third inning. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett didn’t have a good day. He was rocked in the third inning, but the struggles started before that. James Santelli has the full breakdown of what led to Burnett’s struggles on the day. That poor third inning, combined with the fact that Burnett was struggling prior to the inning, raises the question of why he wasn’t pulled earlier.

Things didn’t look good when he walked Adam Wainwright to start the inning. That was followed by a single from Matt Carpenter past a diving Neil Walker. Things really started to fall apart when Carlos Beltran crushed a three-run homer, putting the Cardinals up 3-0 with no outs and the heart of the order up.

That’s when I would have gone to the bullpen. Not to replace Burnett, because you don’t pull one of your top pitchers in the third inning, even after a three-run homer. You let him try to battle back. However, Burnett had been shaky the whole day, so at the least you should get someone warming up in the bullpen. The Pirates didn’t.

“Please, put it all on me,” Clint Hurdle said after the game, on leaving Burnett in for so long. “That was my decision, so as I’ve told you guys as to the fault at our club, when we win, give the players all the credit; when we lose, give the manager all the blame.”

After Burnett gave up the homer, things continued to spiral out of control. Matt Holliday lined a double to right field. Still no one warming up.

Burnett hit Matt Adams with a wild 1-0 curveball. Still no one warming up.

Yadier Molina drew a walk on six pitches.

Unfortunately, it was too late. Burnett walked Jon Jay on six pitches to bring in the fourth run. Then David Freese singled down the first base line to bring in three runs, with one run scoring on a throwing error by Marlon Byrd. And that was all for Burnett.

“Given the situation, with A.J. and his work, we felt that we were going to give him that last hitter, Freese, get the ground ball double-play, see if we could get some balance and keep the game right there where it was,” Clint Hurdle said about why he left Burnett out for so long. “Three feet to the left, ball is by us. Three more runs score after that.”

The problem with that thought process is that even if Freese hits into a double play, you’re still giving up another run, unless one of those outs is at home. And then what happens with Burnett? Does he remain in the game the next inning, or get pulled anyway?

He didn’t get the double play, and Jeanmar Gomez came in. Gomez needed two batters to warm up, although to be fair, those batters saw a combined 11 pitches. Gomez came in and retired three in a row, although again out of fairness, two of those hitters were the No. 8 hitter and the pitcher. He then retired the side in the fourth, giving up only a two-out single. He gave up an unearned run in the fifth, although that might not have scored if it wasn’t for a Clint Barmes throwing error on what would have been a double play. Adam Wainwright was due up next, and the double play would have made it two outs. Overall Gomez went four innings, giving up two runs, one earned.

You can’t assume that Gomez would have gotten out of the jam if he was brought in earlier in the fourth inning. But how might it have looked if he was brought in earlier, or at least warmed up earlier?

Let’s say he gets up after the home run from Beltran. He probably would have been warmed up after the walk to Molina, which is the perfect time to go to the bullpen for a replacement (instead of going to the bullpen to start getting someone warmed up). If you do this, you possibly avoid the four runs that followed from Jon Jay and David Freese. Gomez might not have gotten out of the jam unscathed, but he would have had a better chance than Burnett had. That’s not hindsight, since anyone could clearly see Burnett didn’t have it today.

If Gomez does get out of the inning, then the Pirates are only down 3-0. That might change the way they approach the game on offense the next few innings. If you add the two runs that scored off Gomez, and remove Wainwright after seven, then they’re down by four runs instead of eight with two innings to go. Both of those deficits are bad. Only one is insurmountable.

There were a lot of reasons the Pirates lost today. Leaving Burnett out there for a few extra batters didn’t make the difference in the score. But it certainly changed the entire landscape of the game going forward. The Pirates might have had a chance to come back down 3-0 after three. Instead, the game was pretty much over after the third.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.beam.16 Matt Beam

    why was Clint managing as if this was a May or June game and he didn’t want to burn the bullpen? the players love him and he’s a great motivator, but his in game decisions often leave a lot to be desired. Even if AJ gets out of that inning at 4-0, how could you possibly consider sending him out there the next inning. Hurdle has an unhealthy respect when it’s comes to AJ, he never pulls him quickly and that is the cardinal sin of managing in the post season, you can’t afford to sacrifice one game, EVER

    • Kevin_Young

      You my friend, have found the nail, and hit it squarely on the head with your points.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    A.J. Burnett had a 5.08 career postseason ERA in 7 starts and 39 innings prior to today. His postseason FIP was 4.72. Those numbers are now 6.36 and 5.07.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.sweetnich Joe Sweetnich

    Considering the fact that we scored 1 run it doesn’t seem like it matters when AJ got pulled. Didn’t watch much after the 7 put up, but we couldn’t have had many chances to score

    One game, rather lose like this than have Marte drop a fly ball and lose.

    • http://www.facebook.com/IamMikeFarnham Mike Farnham

      Well if AJ were pitching as he “should” the 1 run would have been enough to be competitive. We can point fingers both ways.

      • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

        Doesn’t matter. This article and argument is pointless. All the Cards needed were 2 runs – our bats were completely silenced. Even if you pull AJ immediately after the Beltran home run, you still lose 3-1.

        Tomorrow is a new day though, and I think it will be the key game of the series. I look forward to a much better approach by the team, and a much better chance to win.

        • emjayinTN

          Wow, a voice of reason – thank you. They have been on fire for a long time and AJ had a game in St Louis like many other pitchers have had this year. (Did he not have a game like this last year?) If we had lesser guys out there on the mound, yes, you pull the plug quickly and spend your BP in the first game of the series. Hurdle gave this veteran SP who has led this team since arriving from the Yankees the opportunity to pitch his way out of the inning. Best of Five – not sudden death. Panic begins when a team gets closer to 3 losses.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

          You don’t really know that. If they only score three runs, the approach could be different for the offense. As an example, Marlon Byrd stranded two by striking out swinging in the fourth. His swings looked pretty bad. Maybe he’s not as desperate if they’re down 3-0 at the time, instead of 7-0. Down 7-0, you need a homer in that situation. Down 3-0, one run would do as you chip away at the lead.

          • buster09

            Exactly Tim,exactly. Anybody on here that doesn’t understand the difference in approach to a 3 or 4 -1 game ( early ) rather than a 7-1 game, needs to stay after class and study a little harder.

  • Bucco in St. Louis

    I was at the game today right next to the Pirates bullpen. I couldn’t believe Clint didn’t have some warm up much earlier. It probably didn’t change the outcome, but Clint has to make a better decision there.

  • Andrew

    This post mirrors my thoughts. One additional comment in a situation like the one the Pirates encountered in the 3rd inning, you do not get the long reliever up you need a fireman. It is imperative to keep the game close, get one of your better relievers warming up. I will never understand this inertial thinking.

    Yes, a pitching change sooner would not have likely affected the outcome, but this is just another instance of the outcome versus process. Evaluate the process; and Hurdles thinking was clearly flawed.

    • smurph

      You are right on Andrew. A manager MUST use a different strategy in the post-season, especially when it is a best of 5. Bring in Watson or Melancon to put out the fire. Based on the first two innings, he should have definitely had someone warming up immediately after the HR. I think in retrospect he understands this. I hope he does.

  • https://profiles.google.com/100508923100437214310 William Beckley

    Let’s say Gerrit Cole pitches well tomorrow and this series ends up with Game 5 in St. Louis. Right now, Burnett would be scheduled to make that start. However, Cole would be on a normal 4 day rest with Game 5 coming next Wednesday. Would Hurdle go with Cole, or forfeit the series by running Burnett out there at Busch again?

  • manilowmaniak

    What an ugly beginning this was. I am glad you did recognize that Burnett was not “on” today from the beginning. This happens. Just a few starts ago, Liriano only lasted 3 innings. Today Kershaw for the Dodgers also knew his fastball was not there, but he made adjustments and ended up with 12 strikeouts and a win.

    You stated: “That’s when I would have gone to the bullpen. Not to replace Burnett, because you don’t pull one of your top pitchers in the third inning, even after a three-run homer. You let him try to battle back”. I have to disagree with your comment. This is the best of 5, not just another game in the middle of the season. You pull your starter in the 2 inning if necessary and you do it BEFORE a 3 run homer! Burnett was throwing balls in the dirt from the very first inning.

    Also while I am at it, a pitcher with a 10-11 record is not necessarily one of our best pitchers either. Of course the Pirate anemic offense can be blamed for some of his losses, but let’s not make him out to be an ace no matter how many strikeouts he had this year. He is very good at times but he should not have been the opening pitcher of the playoffs. Hurdle blew it before the game by choosing him and he blew it during the game by sitting on his hands. Now the question is can they rebound or is the sting from this loss a momentum breaker?

    I am also wondering why this series got 2 consecutive day game starts?

    • IC Bob

      Using your own logic and words. Kershaw had trouble locating his Fastball early (and for that matter his curve). I guess Mattingly (using your logic) should have pulled him immediately before anything bad could happen. No way you pull AJ in the 2nd or early in the third. He is suppose to be your horse and if thats true you give him rope. you don’t neuter your horse in the 2nd or 3rd innings.

      I also find it quite funny that the same people who were all for sending Cole back to the minors in July and limiting his innings now want him to pitch every 5th day. If his arm goes the same people will blame the manager for over use.

      The bottom line is once Beltran hit the three run jack this game was essentially over. The Bucs were lucky in a sense that Gomez pitched so good that we didn’t really wreck our Pen. It was important not to destroy your pitching staff in the first game of a best of five. Hopefully today Cole is on and we can get this back to even.

      What I will agree with is I am not sure about AJ in game 5. Now I may start him but I would probably yank him at the first sign of trouble.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

        Gerrit Cole right now is not the same pitcher as Gerrit Cole in July. He’s made some rapid improvements.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      You’re arguing in hindsight when you say that you would have gone to the bullpen before the three run homer.

      • Kevin_Young

        Ehhhhh could be, but i don’t know. I would’ve had someone up to start that inning for the simple fact that you were asking for trouble letting him go through the order again. The thing was, the Wainwright walk was somewhat predictable because AJ hadn’t hit the glove all game, so you should’ve been ready to pull after that.
        I realize, though, that this would be wayyy outside the norm for a manager to do.

  • manilowmaniak

    I would be interested in finding out the Pirate’s record in 2013 day games vs night games and also the Card’s. Just like home vs away stats are kept, I know somewhere in the sortable stats there must be a day game record that might point toward another reason why we flopped today.

  • http://allmyforeparents.blogspot.com Israel P.

    AJ’s ERA is 31.50. He is lucky. If they had let him pitch the whole game, it would have been worse.

  • backstreets

    Excuses- I wish people would quit making excuses why the Pirates lost game 1, It’s simple AJ had bad day and Hurdle allowed it to get worse. That’s the difference between Good Managing and Bad

    Hurdle is afraid of AJ has been all year, Clint may have cost us the season, lets hope not we will see

  • rsborelli

    I agree with you, Tim. Once he gave up the homer, I was thinking they had to have someone up throwing. Not just the homer, but he was really fortunate to get out of the second, had no K’s up to that point, and just looked like he didn’t have it at all. Some of those walks weren’t even close on ball four. It was an awful night for A.J. I will say, even though I disagree with Hurdle’s timing in pulling him, I don’t think that necessarily cost the Pirates the game. A.J.’s bad start cost them. Even if Hurdle gets someone up at 3-0, they would be hard-pressed to minimize the damage beyond 3 in that inning. And Wainwright was really on. Did have a chance to get some back in the fourth, but terrible AB by Byrd squashed that.

  • CalipariFan506

    The Pirates lost a game anybody with a brain knew they were heavy underdogs in.

    I’m going to panic if we lose either of the next two. But even then who cares? We didn’t collapse! Everything else is gravy.

  • leadoff

    I have been complaining all year about Clint’s field managing, it is easy to talk after the horse is out of the barn, I don’t do that, I probably leave Burnett in to start the 3rd, but he would have been gone before the 3 run home run, (Actually after the walk to the pitcher) bet on it. Clint has not learned and I don’t think he will because he clearly does not know when his pitchers do not have it until it is too late. If there was a running forum on this site I would have commented before Burnett gave up the home run.
    I wonder if the day that Burnett got mad at Hurdle for having the bullpen warming and Burnett got out of the inning and Burnett and Hurdle had some words in the dugout between innings affected Hurdle, because Hurdle will not warm up the pen when Burnett is pitching until the game is out of hand when even A.J. knows he has to get out of the game.
    Hurdle IMO manages starting pitchers by pitch counts and runs against. I do not believe he can tell by the Pitchers mechanics, how hard balls are hit or pitchers being up or down (control). I wonder how much better it would be if Searage would make the decisions on keeping pitchers in the game or taking them out?