The Pirates have been struggling in the month of August. While their pitching has been impressive for most of the season, their team ERA ballooned to a 4.58 ERA this month as the club has posted just a 9-16 record.
A.J. Burnett was the next Pittsburgh starter to struggle on the bump on Monday at PNC Park. After allowing four runs over 5.2 innings (shortened by the rain delay), the right-hander has now sported a 6.00 ERA this month over his five starts. Burnett has allowed at least four runs in all but one of them.
“As we look, it’s about execution, the commitment to the pitch, the command, finishing innings,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “That’s what we’ve come to difficulties. We’re getting behind in counts early, giving up runs early. It has been uncharacteristic, but it has been going on a while. These guys are aware of it. We’ve got to put a foot down and get better across the board.”
“I don’t believe that it’s physical fatigue from the innings, where the guys are. They’re in comparable spots, most have them been in previously. You also count the number of pitches they’ve thrown in the past. It’s not always about innings, sometimes your innings can be somewhat similar, but the volume of pitches could be heavily increased, which can wear some guys down. We’ve been represented with giving rest, giving guys days when they need them. Keeping guys on track that need to be. I think it just comes down to a point of just execution.”
“Finish the inning. Finish the play. Finish the pitch.”
Burnett allowed just one hit and a walk over his first four frames, but then struggled over his next two.
Burnett gave up his first run in the fifth. Yadier Molina battled full count and hit a liner to right to start the inning. Skip Schumaker hit a double that dropped in the notch in left center field, and Molina was able to score on the play. Andrew McCutchen tracked down the ball, but due to the soggy outfield, got his cleat caught and was unable to throw home himself. The All-Star threw to Jose Tabata in left field due to the bad angle, but by then the runner was able to score standing up.
“He just kind of rolled his ankle a little bit when the turf came up,” Hurdle said. “They went inside and moved it around and he felt fine.”
“You hate for that to happen,” McCutchen said of the run scoring. “But I feel like I’ll be alright.”
After Schumaker advanced to third on the wild pitch, he scored when pitcher Kyle Lohse hit a chopper up the middle to plate the second run of the inning.
“It does hurt,” Hurdle said of giving back two runs after leading. “It was obviously one of his strengths for most of the season — shutdown innings. He was as good as anybody in the league. One got away from us today. There were probably a pitch or two that he’d like to have back. But you watch him get out of the box today really so much cleaner than really the last three games with four shutout innings. The chopper back up the middle, you’re just hoping he can stop that ball and that might help out the situation a little bit. It was too high for him.”
The Pirates were able to keep the game tied at 2 after a fantastic relay throw from Josh Harrison. Matt Carpenter ripped a double off the wall in center field. Andrew McCutchen threw to Josh Harrison, who made an outstanding throw home to nail the runner at the plate to end the inning.
“Wasn’t that an outstanding throw?,” Hurdle said. “But I am glad it was the pitcher. Kyle was running as hard as he could. I know he was…He’s an athlete and that’s not a play that you’re really counting on your pitcher to score in that situation. But it was an excellent relay. Just really clean.”
In the sixth, Burnett allowed a solo-home run to lead off the frame to Matt Holliday on a 3-1 pitch. His next batter reached on an infield single, but his defense allowed the runner to advance to third after Clint Barmes’ throw to first sailed into the stands. With two outs, Molina hit a sac fly to center to plate the fourth run.
Overall, Burnett allowed four runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings. He walked one and struck out three while throwing 93 pitches, 59 for strikes.
Sanchez Improving Versatility
Gaby Sanchez took grounders at third base while Manager Clint Hurdle looked on before batting practice on Monday. The first baseman will give Manager Clint Hurdle more versatility off the bench if he can do so. It also will help give Pedro Alvarez a blow when a tough lefty in on the mound.
“That’s one of the thoughts,” Hurdle said. “We’ve got Josh [Harrison] at that position as well.”
“He’s played some third before as well. We just wanted to revisit it and see what his capabilities are. You get reports and you read them, but you don’t want to just box people in, you want to move them around and actually put your eyes on them, work with them a little bit and see if you can stretch them in some areas a little bit.”
Sanchez has no previous experience in the Majors at third base, but limited in the Minors. His last game played at third in the Minors was during the 2009. Sanchez has a combined 148 games played at the hot corner over parts of five seasons.
“He’s worked there in the past, coming up and playing. So, it’s not anything foreign to him by any means,” Hurdle said.
**Starling Marte is eligible to come off the disabled list on September 3rd, but the rookie outfielder may take longer than the 15-days. Marte was forced on the disabled list due to a right oblique strain after running the bases in a game on the 18th, but has not yet taken any batting practice yet.
“He’s out there moving around a bit more, playing catch and things of that nature,” Hurdle said. “He has not started swinging the bat yet.”
**Jeff Karstens, who ended his outing early after a groin strain on Saturday, will not likely miss his next start in Milwaukee.
“We don’t have any red flags going right now,” Hurdle said. “He ran around yesterday and felt really good. Felt very optimistic about the way he felt moving around. We’ll know a little bit more when he throws his bullpen. As far as throwing the ball, he was out in the outfield shagging, throwing balls in . He seemed to be in a pretty good place.”
**Jose Tabata was in the starting lineup on Monday after being available off the bench on Sunday. The outfielder was removed from the game on Saturday due to a groin strain.
“I don’t know that if he’s 100 percent,” Hurdle said. “He’s really close. He came out in a good [place]. Nothing close to what was happening in the past, as far as lack of strength, or immobility or soreness. He’s in a very competitive place to go out and play. Since he’s been back we’ve seen him much better. You’ve seen him strike some balls extremely hard from the time he joined us in St. Louis. [He’s been] using the big part of the field, shooting some balls to right center. You see him get down the line, scoring runs from the top of the lineup…We’ve seen some positive signs from him since he’s come back.”
**Neil Walker was scratched prior to the game due to lower back tightness.
“I don’t have any update,” Hurdle said after the game. “He was seen by the doctors, and he was sent home. I think they gave him something to sleep [muscle relaxers].”
McPherson, Wilson Impress Huntington with Debuts
Kyle McPherson and Justin Wilson made their Major League debuts when the club was in San Diego last week. McPherson tossed two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and struck out a batter in relief. Wilson followed with a scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out the side.
Both pitchers are likely September callups, and General Manager Neal Huntington said he was impressed with what he saw.
“It’s great to see young guys come up and do well,” Huntington said. “Kyle had faced some adversity this year with the injury in spring training, the re-aggravation of it, it took him down for a while. Had some very good outings in Double-A, had some rough outings in Double-A as he got healthy and got back sharp again. He had two very good outings in Triple-A.”
“When you bring a guy to the big leagues with two outings in Triple-A, you kind of hold your breath a little bit. We knew Kyle was fearless. We knew he was a strike thrower and would pound the zone. He did just that. He showed quality stuff, and he showed why we’ve held onto him. He’s one of those prospects that the experts have said we should have given away in a rental piece. Hopefully we’ve shown why we’ve held on to him. Wilson showed up and attacked the zone and showed why we believe he’s going to help us for years to come.”