By John Perrotto
A.J. Burnett had his second sub-par start in a row since the All-Star break Saturday night.
The right-hander allowed five runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings as the Pirates lost to the National 9-3 at PNC Park. That came after he beat the Royals at Kansas City on Monday despite getting tagged for six runs and 11 hits in six innings.
n the first half of the season, Burnett was 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 18 starts and was selected to the All-Star for the first time in his 17-year career.
However, the 38-year-old Burnett scoffed at the idea that he may be tiring out.
“If you expect me to go out and do what I did in the first half, you’re nuts,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can but that’s ridiculous numbers and I mean execution is really the answer. The first half I executed and the last two starts I haven’t.”
Burnett struck out eight and did not walk. However, he still had a rocky ride as he made an errant throw to first base on a pickoff attempt in the first inning for an error then forgot to cover home plate when Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch in the second.
Making fundamental mistakes can be a sign of mental fatigue but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also said he is not concerned, though he didn’t seem completely convincing.
“I think right now I’m going to chalk this up to kind of when the GPS recalculates getting through the All-Star break, time down, two starts back, we’ll see,” Hurdle said. “We’ll get him back out there, talk about what he felt, what he thinks, evaluate the outing, him and (pitching coach Ray Searage), and go from there.
MORE POST-GAME BUZZ
–Third baseman Aramis Ramirez joined the team after being acquired Thursday from Milwaukee in a trade. Ramirez batted cleanup and went 0-for-4.
He is expected to be the regular third baseman and No. 4 hitter until Josh Harrison is activated from the disabled list, which is not likely to occur until early September, after undergoing surgery July 8 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.
“I’m not going to assess his debut,” Hurdle said. “I think everybody was happy to see him back. He squared a couple balls up early, let him play, let him get his at-bats, get him to bed, get a good night’s sleep, get him ready to go tomorrow.”
–First baseman Pedro Alvarez did not start despite hitting a home run in each of the first two games of the series.
However, he entered the game as part of a double switch in the top of the sixth then led off the bottom of the inning with a single off Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
That started a three-inning that got the Pirates within 5-3 before rookie relievers Deolis Guerra and Arquimedes Caminero served up two-run homers. Desmond connected off Guerra in the seventh and Michael Taylor took Caminero deep in the eighth.
It was ironic Alvarez singled off Gonzalez. The reason the left-handed slugger started the game on the bench was because he had been 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his career against Gonzalez.
Alvarez finished 1-for-2 as he flied out to left field in the seventh inning.
“I wanted to get him in there, keep him swinging the bat,” Hurdle said. “I thought he swung the bat, had two good at-bats tonight. Good looks, worked a good count the second at-bat. Drove a ball hard to left field. Looked good up there tonight swinging the bat.”
–Catcher Francisco Cervelli went 2-for-4 with an RBI and is 6-for-12 in the first three games of the series. He had missed the previous two games with a bruised right wrist.
–Shortstop Jung Ho Kang extended his hitting streak to 12 games with second-inning single. He has gone 20-for-44 (.455) during the streak. However, he went 1-for-3 to snap a string of six straight multi-hit games.
–Left fielder Starling Marte ran his hitting streak to six games when he singled in the sixth. He is 12-for-25 (.480) during the streak.
–Infielder Brent Morel was designated for an assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the arrival of Ramirez. Morel hit the tiebreaking pinch-hit double in the sixth inning of the Pirates’ 7-5 victory over Washington on Friday night. He was 2-for-7 (.286) in three games since being called up from Class AAA Indianapolis.
–INF Justin Sellers, who has been on the disabled list all season with a sore right Achilles tendon, had his rehab assignment transferred to Indianapolis from the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates. He was 8-for-23 (.348) in seven GCL games.
Photo: David Hague