The Pirates’ starting rotation needs a shot in the arm in the worst way. They hope the 38-year-old right-hander can provide it when he faces the Milwaukee Brewers in the opener of a four-game series.
Ever since Burnett went on the disabled list July 31 with a strained flexor tendon in his right elbow, the rotation has shown cracks.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole has gone 2-4 with a 3.35 ERA in eight starts during that span. While he hasn’t pitched poorly — he had a gem Sunday night, pitching two-hit ball over seven shutout innings to beat the Cardinals at St. Louis — Cole has showed enough signs of fatigue that the Pirates will skip his next turn in the rotation.
Left-hander Francisco Liriano has gone 2-1 with a 5.29 ERA in six starts, hardly the numbers one would expect from a No. 2 starter. He has pitched 158 2/3 innings and by the time he leaves his start tonight at Cincinnati it is likely Liriano will have compiled the second-highest innings total of his 10-year career. That, too, causes questions about fatigue.
Right-hander Charlie Morton has gone 2-3 with a 3.19 ERA in seven starts, though it seems like he has pitched worse in that span. Perhaps that is because his inconsistency is no longer maddening, just expected, even when he is pitching consistently well.
Left-hander Jeff Locke has gone 2-4 with a 5.62 ERA in eight starts since his mentor has been sidelined. It looks more and more as though his selection to the All-Star Game in 2013 was just an outlier.
The best pitcher in Burnett’s absence has been the man acquired to take his place in the rotation, left-hander J.A. Happ. The Pirates got Happ in a trade from the Seattle Mariners for right-handed pitching prospect Adrian Sampson and he has proved to be a steal, going 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in six starts.
While Happ’s record over his nine-year career — 59-60 with a 4.19 ERA — suggests he is soon due for regression, he has provided a lift when the Pirates needed it.
Now that Pirates need another lift and they are keeping their fingers crossed that Burnett can provide it.
He had a seamless rehab and is sincere when he says he has never wanted anything more in his 17-year career than to win a World Series as a member of the Pirates.
Whether or not he can help remains to be seen. Considering the state of the rotation, it is easy to understand why the Pirates are eager to find out.
TONIGHT’S PIRATES LINEUP
1. Gregory Polanco, RF
2. Starling Marte, LF
3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
4. Aramis Ramirez, 1B
5. Jung Ho Kang, 3B
6. Neil Walker, 2B
7. Francisco Cervelli, C
8. Jordy Mercer, SS
9. Francisco Liriano, P