ATLANTA -- The Pirates haven't yet seen everything they envisioned for the 2012 season. But the anticipated power punch to the rotation by newcomers A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard? As advertised.Burnett picked up eight strikeouts in six innings on Friday, and Bedard followed with nine punchouts in five innings on Saturday. The Pirates wound up with a staff total of 22 strikeouts in the two games -- exceeding anything in back-to-back games in 2011. "We talked about what we'll see from the two guys we were adding, and it has come into play. It definitely helps," said manager Clint Hurdle, who as a hitter during his playing days, recognizes the practical and demoralizing value of the strikeout. "Over time, it wears down an offense. It frustrates hitters. Nobody likes to swing and miss," Hurdle said. "And it keeps you away from situations where productive outs can manufacture runs. "Strikeouts and pop flies are the easiest outs recorded in baseball. No plays need to be made." A little conflict is at play here, because Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage are also huge advocates of quick outs -- those requiring three pitches or fewer. Obviously, relatively few strikeouts are three-and-done. "If it take six pitches to get a strikeout, yes, there's a toll," Hurdle said. "Retiring guys in three pitches or less really gets you to a good place, an opportunity to pitch deep into a game and use your bullpen to an advantage."
Bucs' Grilli draws inspiration from college athlete
ATLANTA -- A few minutes after the conclusion of the Pirates' 4-2 win Saturday night, Jason Grilli recounted his contributions through quivering lips, seemingly near tears.The emotional outpouring had little to do with the fact Grilli had struck out the side in the eighth inning -- and everything to do with his inspiration for doing so. Bree McMahon was in the stands, watching him pitch for the first time. She was only one of 34,086 fans at Turner Field, but her eyes were the only ones felt by Grilli, a hardened 35-year-old veteran who two years ago gained a perspective he retains from the young college athlete. Grilli was in an Orlando rehab facility recovering from right knee surgery, and remembers that day with crystal clarity. "I was sulking pretty good, feeling sorry for myself," he said. "And in walks this beautiful girl, and she sits across the table from me and I see she had no leg. Lost her left leg in an accident while a senior in high school. She has a prosthetic leg, and she's playing on the soccer team at Brevard College in North Carolina. "It was a wakeup call. We formed a pretty solid bond. She's here for me, and I'm here for her. She had never seen me pitch before, and she wanted to come down, and it was a treat. "It's been pretty emotional for me. I feel like I'm laying it on the line, and having her here is special. Not to overdramatize things, but it's been a gravel road to get to this point in my career, and I'm enjoying the heck out of it. I was charged up, knowing she was here." Grilli was signed by the Pirates late last July upon his release by the Phillies, who had never given him a call from the Minors, and immediately joined the Bucs. He has followed up his effectiveness in the second half of the 2011 season (2.48 ERA in 28 appearances) to become the team's primary setup man. In nine innings this season, he has a 15-to-1 strikeouts-to-walk ratio, and regularly lights up the radar gun in the mid-90s. "I'm just having fun," he said. "It's not the snapshot I always envisioned of what my career was going to be when I was 20 years old and starting out. It's been a bumpy road, but looking back, I think I would travel it again, because it's gotten me to where I'm at right now. I wouldn't trade that for any amount of money in the world."
A pair of right-handers on the disabled list, Jeff Karstens (shoulder inflammation) and Chris Leroux (strained pectoral muscle), are both expected to begin light throwing on Monday in Pirate City. Karstens is eligible to be activated on Thursday, but is looking at a considerably longer rehab, while Leroux went on the 60-day DL on April 4. Erik Bedard broke into the win column Saturday night, but not before matching the most unfortunate start to a season in the century that earned runs have been tracked. He'd become the second pitcher to lose his first four starts while pitching at least five innings and not allowing more than two earned runs in any. The hard-luck fate first befell Gordon Rhodes of the Red Sox, in 1933. Pedro Alvarez's eighth-inning double was only the seventh extra-base hit allowed by southpaw Jonny Venters to a left-handed hitter in 220 career plate appearances. Alex Presley (0-for-4) had his career-long hitting streak halted at 12 games. The Last Word: "I've had three shoulder surgeries -- I think 100 pitches is about my limit." -- Bedard, on leaving Saturday's game after five innings, and 96 pitches.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.