06/22/12 11:52 PM ET
Pirates' starters could be in version of 'Survivor'
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Burnett's influence on McDonald paying dividends
PITTSBURGH -- James McDonald was still engulfed by media late Thursday evening when a reporter peeled away from the scrum. As the reporter began to walk off, he passed A.J. Burnett ambling the other way.As he passed Burnett and without stopping, the reporter pointed a backward thumb toward McDonald and said under his breath, "Nice job." Without stopping, Burnett said, "Yeah, it's getting there." One of Burnett's key contributions to the Pirates can be seen every fifth day -- when McDonald takes the mound. The veteran's influence on his younger counterpart has been well documented, and extreme. The most recent evidence of this was McDonald's complete-game win over Minnesota on Thursday, the first complete game of his career. Of course, Burnett has done pretty well on his days to pitch, too. He started Friday night's series opener against the Tigers with a 7-2 record and 3.52 ERA, the kind of performance that has lent weight to his words of advice. Everyone in the clubhouse recognizes the positive impact that both Burnett and veteran catcher Rod Barajas have had on McDonald, who has made 14 starts and not allowed more than three runs in any of them, the first Pittsburgh pitcher to do that since the 19th century. He is also averaging 6 1/2 innings per start, a full inning more than a year ago. While discussing McDonald's improvement in the immediate aftermath of Thursday's gem, Andrew McCutchen was quick to note that "having A.J. by his side has definitely helped him." And Burnett's impact has trickled down through McDonald to the rest of the pitching staff. Not everyone may have been as dramatically affected but, said manager Clint Hurdle, "they're all sure of themselves. There's a lot of self-confidence going on. I really like the pace, the rhythm."
"We've got to get the word, and the vote, out for Cutch. I'm voting 25 times a day. So is my wife. And I'm not stopping any time soon." -- Reliever Jared Hughes, proud to have Andrew McCutchen's back in voting for the 2012 All-Star Game
Pirates management received considerable criticism a month ago when Drew Sutton, who was flipped to the Rays hours after being acquired from the Braves, went on an immediate tear with Tampa Bay, going 6-for-11 in his first three games. So it should be noted that Sutton went 7-for-37 since and has been designated for assignment.
When A.J. Burnett came off the disabled list, Charlie Morton was slotted between him and James McDonald in the rotation. Since Morton underwent Tommy John surgery and the rotation was adjusted, McDonald and Burnett have worked back-to-back, and the Bucs are 7-1 in those games.
The Pirates are 6-2 in front of home crowds of 30,000-plus (and 34-17 since the start of the 2009 season), an MLB-best 15-4 at home since May 12 and 10-2 in home Interleague games the last two seasons.
Casey McGehee's 0-for-4 performance on Friday ended his hitting streak at nine games, two shy of his career-long streak, accomplished in each of the last two seasons.
Pedro Alvarez kept fanning ... his fire, for a change, going 1-for-2 to leave him 10-for-19 in his last six games. With a man on second and two outs in the second, he was walked intentionally by Doug Fister -- his first such pass of the season and only the third of his career.
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.