02/14/2013 3:32 PM ET
Burnett on track to make first Opening Day start
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett threw his second bullpen session Thursday -- starting his long warmup for Opening Day.
Manager Clint Hurdle isn't yet ready to name his starter for Opening Day, still 45 days away, preferring to extend the suspense.
Not that there is much suspense about who eventually will get the nod.
Last year, the Pirates had planned for Burnett to pitch the opener, making that decision even before Burnett fouled a bunt off his eye only a few days following the finalization of his trade from the Yankees. Hurdle made that admission soon after Burnett was able to hook up with the rotation in late April.
So the 2012 honor trickled down to Erik Bedard -- who did pitch exceptionally in a 1-0 loss to the Phillies in PNC Park.
Add the fact that Burnett went on to emerge as the Bucs' ace, and there's little doubt he will get the ball against the Cubs on April 1 in The Bank. The only suspense is when Hurdle will make it official.
It will be the 15-year veteran's first Opening Day assignment, surprising for someone with his track record. But on his original team, the Marlins, he ranked behind Josh Beckett. With the 2007-08 Blue Jays, he was trumped by Roy Halladay. And he shared the 2009-11 Bombers rotation with CC Sabathia.
Inge en route to camp, may have value as reserve
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The big parade of Pirates on the official reporting day for position players consisted of Neil Walker, Starling Marte and non-roster outfielder Brad Hawpe, who on Thursday were the only newcomers into the clubhouse.
The only absentee not checking in was Brandon Inge, who signed a Minor League contract only on Wednesday and was en route by car from Michigan.
Inge has already been told not to come with unrealistic expectations by manager Clint Hurdle, who nevertheless sounded like there will be a definite role for the 35-year-old veteran infielder who can also catch.
"When I talked to him, I was very transparent, let him know the opportunity to break camp as a starter is [unlikely], unless there are injuries," Hurdle said. "But to come in and be able to help off the bench, the value in the National League of double-switching, and to give us that experience if somebody does go down and we have to go to a Plan B. There's a lot to like, with the intangibles as well as the tangibles. He's been a very good component on winning teams."
Additionally, pitcher Stolmy Pimentel is still trying to obtain his visa in his native Dominican Republic.
Otherwise, all hands were on deck as batterymen went through their third workout. The first full-squad drills will electrify Pirate City on Friday.
The club will have seven days of workouts leading up to next Friday's Black and Gold game, the only intrasquad game on the slate. Grapefruit League play will commence the following day, with a 1:05 p.m. ET game in Port Charlotte,Fla., against the Rays.
• Catcher Russell Martin is finding that camping with the Pirates, following two Spring Trainings with the Yankees, has slightly … um, less media congestion. "It's a little different," he nodded, and smiled. "You can just take care of business, do your work, and not worry about any off-the-field stuff."
• Is left-hander Jonathan Sanchez this spring's version of Jo-Jo Reyes? Last year, the Pirates brought the veteran lefty Reyes to camp as rotation insurance, but he never made it to Pittsburgh despite a solid run at Indianapolis (6-2, 2.67 ERA) before leaving the organization. Sanchez is in this camp also on a non-roster basis, albeit with more recent success, as evidenced by his 13-9 record for the Giants in 2010.
"There are some similarities -- as far as the bounce-back angle is concerned. But [Sanchez's] pedigree is a little bit longer," Hurdle said. "He's here to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, that's how we're going to look at him, at least initially."
"Even if we don't win a game, I guarantee we'll have the best postgame spread. I'm a big prosciutto guy." -- Pirates closer Jason Grilli, looking forward to his World Baseball Classic stint on the pitching staff of Team Italy
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.