Burnett stifles Cards in strong Pirates debut
After loading bases in first, righty hurls seven scoreless frames
By George Von Benko / Special to MLB.com | 4/21/2012 11:56 PM ET
STL@PIT: Burnett hurls seven scoreless innings
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates fans got their first look at A.J. Burnett on Saturday night, and it was worth the wait. After a shaky first inning, the 35-year-old right-hander hurled seven scoreless frames in the Bucs' 2-0 victory over the Cardinals.
"It's absolutely what we were looking for out of Burnett," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's the reason he's here, and we're going to give him every opportunity to paint his own picture while he's here."
Burnett, who sustained a broken right orbital bone in Spring Training, was scheduled to make his final rehab start at Double-A Altoona on Saturday, but he started for the Pirates because right-hander Kevin Correia was experiencing discomfort in his left side.
After walking the first hitter he faced, Burnett gave up a base hit and issued a walk to the third batter. He then recorded two strikeouts and got a lineout to get out of the first-inning jam. Burnett allowed just three hits over his scoreless outing. He recorded seven strikeouts and picked up his first win as a Pirate. After throwing 24 pitches in the first inning, he wound up with a total of 76 pitches.
"It was a little nerve-wracking in the first," Burnett explained. "I was a little anxious to get out there and pitch and it showed the first couple of batters, and then you just keep telling yourself, 'One pitch at a time,' and I was able to get out of it."
"The most impressive thing for me tonight -- he retired 17 hitters on three pitches or less," Hurdle said. "So our young guys watching him pitch tonight, there's a guy who threw 24 pitches in the first inning and finished up with  over seven innings."
Burnett was sharp even though he had struggled in his three rehab starts.
"I don't know what was different; I wish I could tell you," Burnett said. "It's different up here. Some guys are able to turn on a switch and I've been around and I've been playing for a long time, and I think coming up here was my time to turn my switch on."
Burnett mowed down St. Louis hitters as the game wore on.
"I didn't even know where he was," Cards left fielder Matt Holliday said. "I guess he was supposed to pitch in Double-A. He pitched well. He looked a little rusty in the first inning and then seemed to settle in pretty well."
"He was in the strike zone," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. "Pittsburgh got him for the reason he showed tonight. He was spot on."
St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook took the loss, falling to 2-1 on the season. The right-hander gave up two runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
The Pirates broke through against Westbrook in the fourth inning. Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker had back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. With one out, Pedro Alvarez hit a liner off the glove of Freese, plating McCutchen and giving Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
Alvarez, who had been struggling at the plate, delivered again in the sixth inning. With one out, McCutchen doubled and Walker drew a walk. With two outs, Alvarez singled to right, scoring McCutchen and upping Pittsburgh's lead to 2-0.
"Anytime I can produce in any way possible, it's good," Alvarez said. "That's my intention every time I'm up there."
"The first one, we'll take it, just because Alvarez is up there battling and he puts the bat on the ball, and a swinging bat is a dangerous bat," Hurdle said. "We needed some breathing room, and he was able to come up with a sharp single through the right side. It's absolutely good to see him involved in the offense."
The Cardinals threatened in the eighth inning against Pirates reliever Juan Cruz. Shane Robinson got on board with an infield single, and Tyler Greene singled to left. Rafael Furcal moved the runners up with a sacrifice bunt. Left-hander Tony Watson came on in place of Cruz and struck out the left-handed-hitting Matt Carpenter. Right-hander Jason Grilli then entered the game and struck out Holliday, ending the threat.
"It's a situation that I've kind of grown to like in a weird way," Grilli stated. "But it's just nice to always pick up your teammates."
Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan struggled with control, walking two Cardinals in the ninth inning, but he settled down to notch his second save of the season.