There are some legitimate questions about the final three slots
in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation as September nears, but there’s
little doubt about the effectiveness of Clint Hurdle’s top two
The offense also appears to be in better shape.
A night after Francisco Liriano gave the Pirates a share of the
NL Central’s top spot, A.J. Burnett looks to continue his home
dominance of the St. Louis Cardinals and lift his club to the
outright lead Saturday night.
Pittsburgh (78-56) traded for longtime Minnesota first baseman
Justin Morneau on Saturday, hoping the four-time All Star can give
the Pirates’ middling offense a needed jolt heading into the final
month of the season. The Twins obtained outfielder Alex Presley and
either a player to be named or cash after Pittsburgh made its
second major move in five days. Pittsburgh sent a pair of minor
leaguers to the New York Mets on Tuesday in exchange for outfielder
Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck.
“We’ve got more depth, we’ve got more options than we had four
days ago,” Hurdle said. “We’re a better team. We’re a stronger
The 32-year-old Morneau hit .259 with 17 homers and 74 RBIs this
season for Minnesota and is finishing off a red-hot month in which
he smacked nine home runs.
“I think he’s found some ways to spark some things offensively
in the second half,” Hurdle said.
Hurdle is hopeful Morneau would make it to the clubhouse in time
for Saturday night’s game.
Charlie Morton’s rotation spot was in jeopardy as recently as
Aug. 1, Gerrit Cole is being given extra rest as his innings mount
and Jeff Locke has pitched so poorly after his All-Star first half
that he’s been sent to Double-A while his next start is
But there’s no uncertainty at the top of the Pirates’ rotation.
Liriano allowed two hits over eight innings Friday in beating the
Cardinals (78-56) for the third time in the past 33 days as
Pittsburgh pulled even atop the NL Central with a 5-0 win.
Garrett Jones broke out of a 1-for-29 slump by going 3 for 4
with a homer and four RBIs.
“Big game, big series,” Jones said. “I made some adjustments and
took it into the game and I felt good. I felt aggressive and strong
and it was nice to be able to contribute to the win.”
Burnett (6-9, 3.18 ERA) takes the ball next, and though he can’t
match Liriano’s 1.21 ERA at PNC Park, he hasn’t been far behind.
The right-hander has posted a 2.01 ERA in his last nine home
starts, a stretch in which he’s held the Cardinals to one run and
four hits over 14 innings while striking out 17.
Burnett is 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA in four home outings against St.
Louis since joining the Pirates.
Hurdle certainly seems to like the 1-2 punch at the top of his
“I just like the way we’re going about our business, throwing
our best two guys back to back,” Hurdle told the team’s official
website. “… When they are on their game, they can be a
This will be Burnett’s first home appearance since Aug. 4 after
going 1-2 with a 5.55 ERA in his four straight road starts,
including a 6-5, 12-inning loss at Busch Stadium on Aug. 15. He
pitched four clean innings and was staked to a 4-0 lead before
being charged with five runs and failing to survive the fifth.
His mound opponent Saturday will be the same as it was earlier
this month. Lance Lynn (13-8, 4.02) gave up four fifth-inning runs
that day and wound up lasting 5 1-3, the beginning of a rocky
three-start stretch in which the right-hander has posted a 5.89
Three of the four runs Lynn allowed over his seven innings in
Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Atlanta came in the first two innings.
“Hopefully for me, this was a building (block) going down the
stretch,” Lynn said. “I’ve got some starts coming up where I’ve got
to be really good.
“And I plan on being really good.”
Lynn hasn’t been good often on the road, going 2-4 with a 6.06
ERA over his last eight starts outside of St. Louis. He’s 2-0 with
a 3.00 ERA in three starts at PNC Park, however.
Lynn has certainly had the number of two of the Pirates’ best
hitters. Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 23 with eight strikeouts versus
Lynn, while Neil Walker is 3 for 17.
Allen Craig and David Freese are each 1 for 9 against Burnett,
but Matt Carpenter is 8 for 18 with three extra-base hits.
Carpenter, who along with McCutchen is tied for the major league
lead with 51 multi-hit games, is 5 for 42 (.119) in his career in