A.J. Burnett toed the rubber against Nick Castellanos and the Detroit Tigers. With runners on second and third base in the fourth inning this was Burnett’s first test all game, and 31,755 Pittsburgh Pirates fans knowing this started to cheer the home pitcher in an effort to fire him up.
The result was the first fist pump from Burnett this season and a strike out to end the inning.
“Anytime you’ve got guys in scoring position, it’s big but it was a big pitch at a big time,” Burnett said. “To be able to hold them at bay right there and get us back in the dugout was really my only thing. We take pride in keeping them from touching home plate. Anytime you get a runner in scoring position and you shut them down, it’s a boost.”
Despite this play, no Pirate advanced past first base against Shane Greene and the team fell to the Detroit Tigers 2-0 Tuesday night.
Both teams were the beneficiaries of solid starting pitching from Burnett and Greene respectively. Burnett [0-1] got ahead of six of his first nine hitters in the batting order, while Greene threw 62 pitches in six innings.
Greene [2-0] allowed three hits, one of which left the infield while Burnett surrendered seven in his seven innings of work.
Greene retired the first five Pirate batters before Pedro Alvarez reached base with an infield single. He was thrown out on a fielder’s choice was Francisco Cervelli grounded out to third base.
Harrison also reached first on an infield single but was stranded when Gregory Polanco grounded out to short. Cervelli recorded the third Pirates hit, another single but Jordy Mercer, the next batter grounded into a double play.
Burnett had a roller coaster of a fourth inning striking out Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera. J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes hit a single and a double bringing up Castellanos. Castellanos struck out, one of eight Burnett punch outs ending the threat. It was a 23-pitch inning for Burnett.
Burnett next encountered trouble in the seventh inning. Alex Avila and Jose Iglesias drew back to back walks with one out. After Greene failed to advance the runners, and with Burnett over 100 pitches, Rajai Davis connected on an RBI single to score the game’s first run.
This knocked Burnett out of the game after the inning’s 34th pitch. Burnett threw 6.2 innings, allowing seven hits, one run, two walks and striking out eight batters over the course of 111 pitches, 69 of which were strikes. This was the first time Burnett threw over 100 pitches as a Pirate since his start September 21, 2013 against the Cincinnati Reds in which he threw 107 pitches. It was his 38th outing with the Pirates in which has he thrown 100 or more pitches.
“I felt strong. The delivery got out of whack a little in the seventh,” said Burnett. “They say free passes hurt you but up until those walks I held it together pretty good. I just stressed everything Cervelli and I talked behind the plate.”
Arquimedes Caminero replaced Burnett and retired the next batter on the first pitch. Caminero pitched his full inning needing only four pitches to do so.
His fourth batter Yoenis Cespedes worked a 2-2 count when Caminero threw a pitch which according to pitch tracker was a strike. Hurdle was ejected while in the dugout by David Rackley for arguing balls and strikes. It was the sixth ejection of Rackley’s three-year career.
“I basically felt a strike needed to be called and it wasn’t,” Hurdle said. “I said something and normally you feel like a guy got violated you basically get told to shut up and that’s enough. I obviously didn’t get that opportunity to shut up. I felt we had a strike out and we didn’t get it.”
Starting with Mercer’s double play ball to end the fifth inning, Greene retired 10 consecutive Pirates batters to end his outing. Greene went eight innings allowed three hits and striking out three over the course of 81 pitches, 56 were strikes.
“He got outs when he needed,” Josh Harrison said. “Walker hit the ball to the warning track, I lined out twice, Jordy lined out. We had some balls we hit hard but luck was on his side. When you’re a guy that throws strikes, that’s what happens. It’s not a matter if he dominated us, everybody felt comfortable, he had a little luck on his side. We’ll come back tomorrow and win the series.”
Caminero went in to pitch the ninth inning and recorded the first out. Iglesias got a broken bat single that Andrew McCutchen jogged to and sensing the opportunity attempted to take second base. McCutchen’s throw was not in time resulting in a double.
“He didn’t come out of the box hard, it was like he stole second base,” said Hurdle. “We play a little deeper and try to get to the balls as quick as we can and we always have to be ready when guys try to take the extra base.”
Caminero ended his outing striking out pinch hitter Victor Martinez. Caminero threw two innings allowing a walk and strike out. Of his 25 pitches, 16 were strikes. Rob Scahill came in as part of a double switch. Scahill moved into the fifth spot in the batting order and Andrew Lambo slid into the ninth position taking Corey Hart’s place in right field.
Scahill walked Davis in a 10-pitch at-bat and then surrendered a single to Kinsler that scored Iglesias. The run was charged to Caminero who had a final line of two innings, one hit, one run, one walk, 25 pitches and 16 strikes.
Joakim Soria pitched the ninth and earned his third save of the season retiring the Pirates in order.
The Pirates have held the Tigers who came in scoring 47 runs to six in two games which is 4.83 runs below average.
“Our pitchers are doing a great job,” said Harrison. “Whether it’s the Tigers or whomever we have full faith in those guys going out there starting. They’ve done a great job keeping us in these ball games and I tip my hat off to these pitchers because they’re battling. “
These two teams will meet in the regular season finale Wednesday evening when Alfredo Simon [1-0 5.06 ERA] takes on Francisco Liriano [0-0 2.57 ERA]. Liriano is 5-9 with a 5.82 ERA in 25 games against the Tigers.