Pirates Notebook: Clichés Are True in the Short Term, Useless in the Long Term

A.J. Burnett "got his work in" today.
A.J. Burnett “got his work in” today.

It’s very cliché. You hear it all the time during Spring Training right after a starter had a bad outing.

“This is one of those outings in Spring Training, you walk away, you say he got his work in, you move on,” Clint Hurdle said after today’s game with a laugh, describing A.J. Burnett’s outing. The right-hander was pulled in the second inning of today’s game, giving up four runs on four hits and two walks in 1.1 innings. One of those runs scored off Kris Johnson, but Burnett didn’t leave Johnson in the best situation, with the bases loaded and one out.

Burnett also described his start in the same clichéd manner.

“I’m worried about April 1st. I’ve got another start in five days. You want good results, I’m not happy with it. But I also know that it’s about getting your work in, getting your pitch count up,” Burnett said. He then went beyond that, saying what everyone thinks when they hear the “getting work in” line.

“I’ve done this long enough to know that it’s Spring Training. These numbers don’t count. But at the same time you want to do well. Obviously you want to do well.”

The clichés we hear during Spring Training don’t say much for the long-term. In this instance we don’t know if just getting work in will lead to a good season from Burnett. We wouldn’t be guaranteed of a good season even if he had good numbers, we’d just feel more comfortable with that projection. Those same clichés do tell the truth about the short-term.

The truth is that this is Spring Training. The numbers don’t count. Just like Burnett said. If you want proof, just take a look at what Burnett was throwing today. In his last start he was only throwing fastballs and changeups. Today he was still throwing mostly those two pitches, but started mixing in his curveball for the first time this year.

“I only threw it 0-2 today a couple of times. Just mix it in,” Burnett said of the pitch.

That’s one thing that is often over-looked in Spring Training, especially in the early part. Pitchers aren’t using the arsenal they’re going to be using during the season. It’s hard to take anything away from a start where a pitcher only uses his curveball on specific counts, as opposed to the regular season when there would be no restrictions. But that’s Spring Training. You go for about four to five months without any relevant baseball, being beaten down by the same off-season discussions over and over. Then you finally get Spring Training games and you’re ready for serious games where you can actually evaluate results, as opposed to looking at top prospect lists, computer simulations, Vegas odds, or talking about which corner outfielder has the best chance of sticking in the majors as a starter. The only problem is that you’ve got to wait a bit longer to evaluate those results.

As Burnett pointed out, you do want to see good results. Good results also exist. Wandy Rodriguez threw three innings today, giving up one unearned run on two hits, with a walk and three strikeouts. Hurdle also mentioned that Rodriguez got his work in, so that phrase wasn’t exclusive for struggling pitchers.

That might provide a little more confidence in Rodriguez than Burnett, but the reality is that these outings came on March 4th, and they don’t give any indication of how good or bad a player will be a month from now. So we’ll watch as pitchers get their work in. That’s an important process, as it allows the pitcher to get ready for the season. It’s also a reminder that we’re still in the off-season period, with little more to go on than guess work of how productive a player will be in the upcoming season.

Something Clicked for Kris Johnson in the Dominican Winter League

Kris Johnson had an impressive season in the Dominican Winter League. The left-hander had a 1.06 ERA in 59.1 innings between the regular season and the post-season, including six shutout innings in the championship clinching game. That was a huge turnaround from his 2012 season, where he moved between Double-A and Triple-A as an upper level organizational guy. His season ended on a down note, being removed from the first inning in his International League playoff start. The performance in the Dominican Winter League was unexpected after his 2012 results.

“I can’t pinpoint it,” Johnson said. “Something just clicked, whether it was a timing issue or a mechanical issue. Something clicked down there. Walks went way down, strikeouts went up. Went longer into games with minimal amount of pitches.”

The lefty went to visit former Pirate Nelson Figueroa. The two are friends, talk all the time, and play catch in the off-season. After talking and throwing with Figueroa, Johnson went on to put up his impressive numbers. He’s now looking to carry that over to Spring Training to win a spot out of the bullpen.

“Still feeling good,” Johnson said. “Arm feels strong. Mechanics feel the same. Timing’s getting there. We’re just going to take it step by step, and hopefully I can get back to that form from taking a month off, hopefully soon.”

The Pirates re-signed Johnson early last year. Kyle Stark approached him in September when he was throwing a bullpen in Altoona, asking if he wanted to re-sign. Johnson mentioned that he liked how the Pirates were building a team aspect, which led to his decision to re-sign without testing the open market.

Today the left-hander threw 1.2 innings, allowing one hit and one walk, with three strikeouts. The one walk came with the bases loaded and one out, after he relieved A.J. Burnett. From there, Johnson left the bases loaded in the second, and pitched a scoreless third inning.

“We like what we’ve seen,” Clint Hurdle said. “When the ball’s in the zone it’s good downhill angle. He’s got a nice breaking ball he can work with. He’s one of the guys we’re continuing to look at for an opportunity out of the bullpen.”


**Chase d’Arnaud started today’s game at shortstop, with Jordy Mercer at second base. That is opposite of what those two had played last week. After the game, Clint Hurdle talked about the thought process behind flipping those two players.

“Their opportunity to make the club would be as a utility middle infielder. You want to get them in those positions. See if one has more feel for (one position) than the other.”

**Hurdle said the team wouldn’t start discussing cuts until late in the weekend.

**Jeff Karstens will throw two innings of live batting practice at Pirate City tomorrow. One inning will be regular, and one inning will be simulated.

**Hurdle anticipates that Russell Martin will be behind home plate by the end of the weekend.

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