By John Perrotto
The Pirates’ game with the Chicago Cubs postponed because of rain Monday night in the middle of the fourth inning following two delays totaling three hours and 29 minutes at PNC Park.
However, the bigger news was that right-hander A.J. Burnett learned in the afternoon that he has a strained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow after undergoing an MRI earlier in the day. The 38-year-old had a platelet-rich plasma injection in the elbow and will begin a throwing program in four weeks.
“It wasn’t the news I wanted,” Burnett said. “I was hoping for no bad news but this was the news I was more hoping for than not, because guys come back from this.”
Burnett has gone 1-2 with a 10.13 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break, giving up at least five runs in each outing. He was rocked for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings last Thursday night by the Reds at Cincinnati then was placed on the disabled list the following day with what was termed inflammation.
Burnett was 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 18 starts in the first half of the season as he was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his 17-year career. Overall, he is 8-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 21 starts.
Burnett was concerned that he had torn a ligament in the elbow because he felt the same kind of pain in 2003 while pitching with the Florida Marlins. He wound up having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery then missed the entire season as the Marlins went on to win the World Series.
Burnett said he is hopeful of returning this season. He reiterated that he will retire at the end of the season regardless of whether he is able to pitch again.
“My mind is made up,” he said. “I have the news now where I feel 100 percent positive that I will return. Now, if the results were different, my mind wouldn’t be made up, it’d just be a terrible way to go out.”
Burnett pitched for the Pirates for two seasons from 2012-13 then left for the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency. He returned to the Pirates as a free agent in November, signing a one-year, $8.5-million contract after declined his $12.75-million play option with the Phillies and said his desire was to help the franchise win its first World Series title since 1979.
“The way I look at it is I have given my heart to these guys and this city the best I can, and I’m very pleased I’ll get the opportunity hopefully to do that again in four weeks,” Burnett said.
The Pirates lead the National League wild card race by four games over the Cubs and are 5 ½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central standings. Burnett admits it will tough to wait for the ligament to heal in the midst of the pennant race.
“But I’ve got to be smart about it,” he said. “There’s no going out there like the other night. I
can’t do that to myself or these guys. It’s not fair. But I’m looking forward to it, to having no doubts, to putting a step forward every day and getting back out there.”
The thought has entered Burnett’s mind that he may have thrown his final pitch. However, he believes the support he is receiving from his teammates and fans will help spur a comeback.
“Social media has been off the hook,” Burnett said. “It’s really humbling to know everybody is there and has your back.”
–First baseman/outfielder Michael Morse joined the team, three days after being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade for outfielder Jose Tabata.
The right-handed hitting Morse was in the lineup against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester, batting seventh. He doubled in his lone plate appearance in the second inning and scored but that was wiped out by the postponement.
The Dodgers designated Morse for an assignment last Thursday immediately after acquiring from the Miami Marlins in a three-team trade that also included the Atlanta Braves. Morse hit just .213 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 53 games with the Marlins but is buoyed by the fact that the Pirates feel he can help them reach the postseason for a third consecutive season.
Morse, 33, is a .276 lifetime hitter over 11 seasons and has averaged 22 home runs and 74 RBIs per 162 games. He is expected to platoon at first with left-handed hitting Pedro Alvarez.
“With the year I was having with the Marlins, for two teams that are as good as the Dodgers and the Pirates to want me, it makes me feel like I’ve been doing something right,” Morse said. “I know what I can offer to a team, and I plan on doing that.”
Outfielder Jaff Decker was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Morse. Decker was 1-for-13 (.077) with a triple in nine games.
–Shortstop Jung Ho Kang was voted NL Rookie of the Month for July.
Kang led all major league rookies with a .379 batting average, a .443 on-base percentage, a .621 slugging percentage, 18 runs scored, 33 hits and 54 total bases in 25 games while his three home runs were tied for fourth among NL rookies.
He also had nine RBIs and 13 extra-base hits, which was tied for third among all NL hitters.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no Pirates rookie has had as high a batting average and as many extra-base hits in one calendar month since Hall of Famer Paul Waner hit .381 with 14 extra-base hits in September 1926.
–Left-hander J.A. Happ (4-6, 4.64 ERA) will make his first start for the Pirates on Tuesday night when he faces the Chicago Cubs. Happ was acquired from Seattle in a trade last Friday.
Happ lost five of his last six decisions since May 15 after going 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA in his first seven starts of the season.