03/08/08 5:40 PM ET
Notes: Maholm continues solid spring
Pirates left-hander believes he's ahead of last year's pace
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
All the hoopla so far this spring has concerned the two staff aces -- Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny -- and the questions surrounding Zach Duke. But Maholm, who came into camp having dropped weight and in peak condition, justifiably should hear his name mentioned at least a little more often.
Maholm allowed two runs on three hits in three innings against the Twins. And, really, if it hadn't been for two infield singles, the two-out, two-run double off the bat of Justin Morneau would have been immaterial.
"I think I'm a step ahead of last year," said Maholm, who went 10-15 with a 5.02 ERA during the 2007 regular season. "It used to be I would fall behind and I [couldn't] get back. Now I'm able to make an adjustment in the middle of an at-bat and not have to go talk about it afterward."
Despite still struggling to get an adequate number of first-pitch strikes, the biggest sign for Maholm that everything is in sync early is the fact he has yet to issue a walk in his five spring innings.
There still are certain things to be worked on, with fastball command and more controlled movement on his breaking pitches being on the top of the list. But with all four of Maholm's pitches nearing the point where the lefty feels comfortable throwing them where he wants to when he wants to, the final three weeks of Spring Training should provide him with ample time to be right on target in being ready for Opening Day.
"It's just me getting the vision to where I want to throw the pitches, like I was in the middle of last year," Maholm said. "My bullpen sessions have been good, but now it's just getting into the gear of throwing three and four innings and being able to go longer."
Burnett dominant: Maybe the Pirates struck gold in their decision to let Sean Burnett vie for a spot in the bullpen this spring.
Burnett needed just 11 pitches for another 1-2-3 relief appearance, in which he struck out two of the three hitters. There's no question he has looked strong since camp opened, but this was the first test for the left-hander to bounce back with little rest. He had last pitched on Wednesday.
"I wasn't sure exactly how it would go on short rest," said Burnett, who has made just one relief appearance in his eight years in the organization. "But once you get out there, the adrenaline started flowing and everything was fine."
The change of emphasis from sharpening Burnett as a starter to using him as a reliever was done just recently, but it appears to have given him an upper hand at making the roster out of Spring Training, especially if performances like the one he had on Saturday become habitual.
"He's been throwing the ball great," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He looks like he's on a mission."
Schedule changes: Because of Friday's rainout, the Pirates' pitching schedules for the next few days had to be altered. Left-hander Phil Dumatrait still will make the start on Sunday, and he will be followed by Ty Taubenheim, Damaso Marte, Franquelis Osoria and John Grabow.
Other pitching notes: Byung-Hyun Kim threw his second round of batting practice on Friday, marking the final step in getting the 29-year-old reliever ready for game action.
"[I'm] still not feeling perfect," said Kim, who was behind in his offseason throwing when the Pirates signed him on Feb. 24. "I still feel a little behind. I think I just need to [pitch] more."
Kim will get that opportunity on Monday, when he makes his Spring Training debut with one inning scheduled against the Phillies.
Veteran right-hander Elmer Dessens, who has been battling back problems since the onset of camp, threw 25 fastballs in his first side session of the spring on Saturday. Afterward, Dessens, 37, reported he was encouraged by how his back responded.
Dessens, who played in Mexico over the winter, blamed the cooler temperatures as the reason for the recent aches and pains.
Bucs bits: Country singer Jason Aldean, who is in Florida for his current cross-country tour, tagged along with first baseman Adam LaRoche prior to Saturday's game at McKechnie Field. In addition to spending some time in the Pirates clubhouse, Aldean took some cuts in the batting cage while the Bucs took batting practice. ... Just a reminder that Pirates single-game tickets went on sale Saturday and can be purchased either by calling 1-800-Buy-Bucs, stopping by the PNC Park box office or logging on to Pirates.com.
On deck: Dumatrait will attempt to continue to make a case for a starting spot with the club when he takes the mound for his third start of the spring. The lefty is slated to pitch four innings in the Pirates' 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. The Tigers will counter with left-hander Nate Robertson.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.