Bucs ace Burnett enjoys efficient day

BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett found the perfect solution to not allowing the Pirates' new emphasis on running-game control distract him from pitching.

Don't let anyone get on base.

On Saturday, Burnett surrendered a game-opening single to Darin Mastroianni -- whom he then promptly picked off first base -- then retired the next 11 Twins he faced in the Bucs' 5-4 loss.

The Bucs' Opening Day starter fittingly was their first pitcher to go beyond the fourth. Burnett logged 4 2/3 innings, yielding two hits and being charged with two runs.

"It's good to go through that," Burnett said of unexpectedly going out for a fifth inning. "After four, they came up to me and said, 'You're at 45 pitches.' I said, 'What? Don't I normally have that after two innings?'

"But it's good, man, you want to be in that situation, so you know what it feels like the next time out."

Manager Clint Hurdle had a similar view of his ace's extended day.

"He was able to go up and down five times," Hurdle said, alluding to breaks between innings. "His fastball command was much better, in and out. He spun some balls very, very well, threw some very good changeups. So a very good outing for A.J."

In each of his first two starts, Burnett had permitted four runs each time out (although a total of only five earned runs). Reaching the Spring Training stage of mixing in more curveballs was an obvious advantage.

"I felt a lot better than last time out. I got a little two-seamer happy then," Burnett said. "Everything plays off the four-seamer, and that was the difference today, attacking with that pitch and getting ahead. It's just good to get out there every five days.

"It's a process, not going to happen overnight. The more times you go out there, the sharper you get. This was sharper than the last two; I expect my next one to be even sharper still."

Martin, Inge to play in different split-squad games

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The interests of Pirates staff and fans will be divided along with the team's squads for Sunday's exhibition action. In a double dose of defensive debuts, Russell Martin will return behind the plate in Sarasota, Fla., and Brandon Inge will start at third base in Fort Myers, Fla.

Martin is penciled in to bat third against the Orioles, while Inge is in the five-hole against the Twins.

Manager Clint Hurdle has opted to trek to Fort Myers, to check out Inge and other players who are on the bubble as the first camp cuts near. Hurdle and staff, including front office personnel, will meet following Monday's game to discuss those initial cuts.

Jonathan Sanchez, the non-roster lefty who has had a difficult spring, will have a final chance to impress Hurdle as he makes the start against the Twins. Clint Robinson and Ivan De Jesus will also be in that starting lineup.

The game against the Twins will also be notable for the debut of the Sanchez Trifecta. All three thusly named players in camp will start: Gaby at first, Jonathan on the mound and Tony as his catcher.

Otherwise, Hurdle is splitting the squad in a sensible manner, with regular infielders Pedro Alvarez, Clint Barmes and Neil Walker busing to Sarasota, and the regular outfield (Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Travis Snider) taking the longer drive to Fort Myers.

Worth noting

• Hurdle has confirmed that Sunday's split-squad games would be the last ones in which the Pirates employ a designated hitter -- certainly in remaining exhibitions started by candidates for the rotation.

That will add up to a considerable competitive disadvantage in the Pirates' remaining schedule, with 14 of the final 16 exhibitions against American League teams who will continue to use a DH. Both teams do not have to use identical lineup rules in preseason games.

• Garrett Jones didn't pass the cough test, so he remained unplugged with the tightness in his left oblique area.

"They had me cough, and I still felt [the soreness] a little," Jones said Saturday morning. "So another boring day, I won't do anything. We want it to quiet down so there's no tightness, then I'll get back in there."

• The Bucs are suddenly down two middle infielders after Chase d'Arnaud jammed his left thumb during morning rundown drills, and Anderson Hernandez reported a sore shoulder after a failed diving-catch attempt in Friday night's game.

Both were in the lineup for Sunday's game in Fort Myers, and will be replaced by Ivan De Jesus and Jordy Mercer.

• Did you know: James McDonald led Pirates pitchers last season by allowing 21 homers, but that was a very modest team high. Only the Cardinals (Kyle Lohse, 19) had a team leader with fewer among the 30 Major League clubs.