Originally written on Raise the Jolly Roger!  |  Last updated 4/21/12

I’ll admit it – I was very worried about A.J. Burnett tonight. He was coming off two terrible rehab starts, had to be somewhat unprepared for the NL-best lineup he was facing, and was generally being overhyped by Pirates fans (I was a fan of the Burnett pick up, but I certainly didn’t expect him to walk in here and become an ace).

For at least one night, Burnett DID look like an ace. It didn’t look good early–he walked the leadoff man on four pitches, then allowed a hit, then another walk. But then he struck out Carlos Beltran, then struck out David Freese, and Yadier Molina lined a ball to Clint Barmes at short to end the inning.

After that rocky start, Burnett was phenomenal. He was allowed just three hits (two after the first), didn’t walk anyone else, and struck out seven. He was remarkably efficient (76 pitches in 7 innings DESPITE throwing 24 in the first), and had the Cardinals completely out of sorts all night. He almost certainly could have continued into the eighth (or even ninth) inning, but Clint Hurdle lifted him in favor of a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh.

I understand that the Bucs want to be cautious with AJ in his first start, but I would’ve left him in. Reports earlier in the week said that the plan was to get his pitch count above 80 and hopefully close to 100 in this start (which was supposed to be a rehab start for Altoona)…and he wasn’t even at 80 yet, and was cruising. This has been a trend with Hurdle in the young season–he’s been pulling all his starters out of the game relatively early–possibly an effort to reduce wear on their arms later in the year?

Anyway, it ended up working out fine. One other thing with Burnett: his first Pirates plate appearance was laughable (in a good way). Rod Barajas had singled out of the #8 spot, setting up the obvious bunt attempt for the pitcher. As soon as he squared around, the entire PNC Park crowd went into a panicked frenzy “NOOOOO!!!!” It was extremely audible on TV and had to be a hilarious moment at the ballpark. It turned out Burnett didn’t have to worry about bunting a ball into his eye, because Jake Westbrook ended up walking him on four pitches.

Cutch tweet

The Pirate offense was its usual terrible self for most of the night against Westbrook (who has been great so far this year), but was able to scratch out two runs. Both came via Andrew McCutchen scoring on a Pedro Alvarez single. Yep – Pedro Alvarez got a hit that wasn’t a home run. Two of them, actually. His average now stands at a .118, almost double what it was before the game. Pedro looked pretty good at the plate – both singles were sharp ground balls, one to third and one to right field. He also stayed in to face tough lefty reliever Mark Rzepczynski and hit the ball hard (although it was a flyout to the track).

Things got a little hazy towards the end of the game. The Pirates ran themselves out of the seventh inning with McCutchen at the plate, which made no sense at all. Juan Cruz then came on to pitch the 8th, and immediately called the decision to lift Burnett into question when he allowed two singles to start the inning. The Cards put down a sac bunt for one out, and Tony Watson came on to face the next batter – a lefty – and came up big with a strikeout. Watson has been super-clutch in situations like that so far this year. Jason Grilli then came on to face Matt Holliday and struck him out to end the threat.

Joel Hanrahan, pitching for the first time in almost a week because of a strained hamstring, came on for the save. He struck out Carlos Beltran easily, but then had a major control lapse and walked two in a row, then fell behind the next hitter. He came back with a strikeout and then got a groundout to end it, though, and picked up his second save.

Awesome win. Other than those slight hiccups in the late innings, it would be hard to ask for a more enjoyable victory.

Pirates 2, Cardinals 0 / Box / 2012 Record: 6-8 / Next: Sunday, vs. Cardinals, 1:35

MVP: Burnett (+.437) / LVP: Cruz (-.150) / Key play: Watson’s strikeout in the 8th

©2012 Raise the Jolly Roger. All Rights Reserved.


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