PITTSBURGH -- Did dredging up one of the most wretched episodes in Pirates history make a cosmic contribution to the 2012 club's downfall?During the Bucs' early-season visit to Atlanta, they were inundated by replays on Turner Field's giant video board of "The Slide," by Sid Bream, which gave the Braves the comeback 1992 National League pennant. As if that wasn't bad enough, fans were also incessantly reminded to come back on June 9 for a bobblehead depicting the event. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Bucs invited the haunting to their own front door. On Aug. 24, in the opener of the Pirates' previous series against the Brewers, Bream took part in a season-long promotion by serving as the guest bartender at a PNC Park pub. His image was on the scoreboard, and an interview with him interrupted the game telecast. The Pirates took the field that night with a record of 67-57, one game out of a National League Wild Card playoff berth. They lost, 6-5, and have kept on losing, going 7-16 since then. Sure, Bream spent most of his career -- 1985 to 1990 -- with the Pirates. But didn't he do more against them than for them? Apparently, he still is.
When it comes to steals, Burnett most lenient
PITTSBURGH -- Getting run over by the Brewers for seven stolen bases on Tuesday night took the Pirates somewhere they hadn't been in more than 22 years. On May 23, 1990, the Astros swiped eight bags against them.Can't blame that one on A.J. Burnett. The starter that night in the Astrodome was Bob Walk, the club's longtime broadcast analyst. The most recent runaway, however, does fall on Burnett, who has been vulnerable to the running game all season. It is merely less noticeable when he is making key pitches to strand those runners, and when the Bucs are putting up big runs behind him. "They were stealing on us earlier, too, but we were making pitches, so it didn't matter," said Burnett, including the rest of the Bucs' lenient staff. As he should: When the scoreboard totals show 137 steals in 151 tries, everyone has a hand in it. But Burnett's handprint is the biggest. Forty-seven of those steals have come in his starts. He has personally been on the mound for 34 of those (in 34 attempts; the only two caught stealing against him were picked off first), but that success sets a tone, as it did for the Brewers on Tuesday. "I'd still rather not worry about it," said Burnett, unwilling to give in to runners by speeding up his delivery or by throwing more fastballs than advisable. "I'd still rather worry about making a pitch and trying to get an out. But if we're going to let them steal, you do need to make pitches. They just had our number [on Tuesday] night."
Exercising caution, Walker heads back to bench
PITTSBURGH -- The uncertainty of what he is dealing with hit Neil Walker right in the face when he awoke on Wednesday. The morning after he felt "great, the best I've felt yet," he didn't feel well enough to risk remaining in the lineup for the second game of the series against the Brewers.His recovery from tightness in his lower back has been slow and arduous, and apparently is ongoing. "As great as I felt at the start of [Tuesday's] game, I was drained before it was over," Walker said. "As badly as I want to play, I have to listen to my body." Walker thus reclaimed his seat on the bench, with Brock Holt starting at second, back in the leadoff spot. Walker played entire games on Saturday and Sunday, rested on Monday and played nine innings on Tuesday before needing another "fallback" day. He may have to cope with that type of schedule for the remaining two weeks of the regular season. "It's challenging now for him. He gives us what he can give us," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It might be every other day, it might be two days then an off-day. We'll just have to take it day by day. "He felt strong in the middle of [Tuesday's] game, then it got away from him late. He goes through a downward spiral, then seems to get rejuvenated. If he can't function to be competitive, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense [to play him]"
"Guys still come in every day with the mind-set, 'We're going to win today.' We haven't played lately the way we want, but we all know we're a game away from it. We're still in this thing, and we want to make a splash." -- A.J. Burnett on the hope that persists inside the clubhouse
Jeff Karstens and James McDonald, two longtime members of the rotation who have been relocated to the bullpen, were both available on Wednesday night behind rookie Kyle McPherson. A relief appearance would be McDonald's first since his farewell outing for the Dodgers on July 29, 2010; he made 71 consecutive starts with the Pirates. Karstens (strained right hip flexor) hasn't been in a game since Aug. 31. Fully recovered from a strained right hamstring, Travis Snider started on Wednesday for only the second time since Sept. 4. With the intent of pitching inside more, Pirates hurlers hit a season-high three batters on Tuesday. After turning 154 double plays last season, the Bucs made 117 through 147 games, a direct reflection of opponents' 137 stolen bases, which have cut down double-play opportunities.
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.