In four starts this season, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander A.J. Burnett has been nothing short of dominant – despite still lacking his first win of the 2015 campaign.
After rejoining the Bucs for one final season of big league baseball, many Pirates fans were skeptical that Burnett could be an effective starting pitcher – for several reasons.
“He’s 38 years old.”
“He nearly lost 20 games with the Phillies last season.”
“We’re trying to win the World Series – not throw money away.”
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Really, the list goes on-and-on. And clearly, Burnett has a chip on his shoulder and is looking to show that, despite his age and 2014 struggles, he’s still a formidable force in a big-league starting rotation.
Across his four outings, the Pirates are just 1-3 – due largely to the fact that the offense hasn’t scored more than two runs to back Burnett, meaning he has to be near-perfect if he wants to pick up a ‘W’. Those three losses came against the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers; teams that rank at varying points in terms of team offense.
The division-rival Reds were expected, by many, to be headed for a down year after losing Mat Latos to trade and with questions surrounding first baseman Joey Votto. The Reds offense ranks in the lower half of the National League in terms of runs scored this season and come in 12th of the 15 clubs in terms of OPS. When Burnett squared off against Cincinnati, those numbers were right in-line with what the Bucs experienced.
Cincinnati averages roughly 3.9 runs per game – and in his first start of the year, Burnett allowed a pair of runs in 5 1/3 innings. The right-hander needed 99 pitches to get into the sixth, which was somewhat troubling, but he gutted his way through the start with some less-than-stellar stuff – as he often does. When the dust settled, Pittsburgh was left looking up on the wrong end of a 3-2 walk-off loss.
Meanwhile, Detroit ranks seventh in the American League in runs, averaging roughly 4.5 tallies per contest. In terms of on-base percentage, the Tigers, led by Miguel Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes, rank second – trailing only the defending pennant-winning Kansas City Royals. In the April 14 loss, Pittsburgh pitching held Detroit to just a pair of runs, but found themselves on the receiving end of a shutout by right-hander Shane Greene.
Burnett, meanwhile, allowed a lone run in 6 2/3 innings of work in which he struck out eight and walked just two – evidence that he was far from deserving of being saddled with his first loss of the campaign. In fact, that was the only decision he’s factored in to, as he’s gotten tacked with three no-decisions otherwise.
From there, Pittsburgh and Burnett battled the upstart Chicago Cubs and, again, the righty did not disappoint. He held the Cubs’ bats to just one run in six innings of work, although he managed only one strikeout, which is somewhat uncharacteristic for the righty who has averaged over eight punchouts per nine during his near-two decade career.
Despite the Bucs picking up the win on Saturday in Arizona, Burnett was once again left without a win to his name. In his longest outing of the season, the right-hander tossed seven frames of one-run ball, lowering his earned run average on the year to a minuscule 1.80.
So what does Burnett need to do to earn his first win of the season? Well, to be honest, he can’t do much more than what he’s done regularly to-date. Pitch into the sixth, limit opposing hitters to a run or two and hope. Hope that the offense wakes up and decides to stake you to an early lead.
How has that gone so far? Just seven total runs in four starts.
When the bats wake up, don’t be surprised to see A.J. Burnett start racking up the wins in the middle of the Pittsburgh starting rotation.