On Monday when the Pittsburgh Pirates face off against the Chicago Cubs on opening day, they will hand the ball to A.J. Burnett. It is the first time in his career that he will make a start on opening day. This honor is usually bestowed upon the ace of a team’s pitching staff, so is that what Burnett has become for the Pirates?
A quick look at the Pirates pitching staff and you will see there is currently no obvious number one. The team doesn’t have a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw type. Instead the list is littered with guys who have been unable to succeed on a regular basis and stick with a single team. You have Wandy Rodriguez, a guy who is three games below .500 for his career. Then there is James McDonald, a guy that never quite developed into what the Los Angeles Dodgers had hoped. Or you have Francisco Liriano, currently on the disabled list, who might have ace stuff if he could just shake off the injury bug. So Burnett is basically the best of a motley lot.
Last year Burnett had a very nice season. He was 16-10 with an earned run average 3.51. The only problem I have with Burnett at the top of the rotation is he has shown in the past that he can be a little frail mentally. When he was with the New York Yankees, many of his problems appeared to be between his ears rather than something mechanically. Now Pittsburgh is a bit different than New York when it comes to pressure, but still, will Burnett crack under the strain on being the man? Hopefully an older and wiser Burnett is up to the task. I am 90 percent confident that he can get the job done, but that other 10 percent keeps buzzing in my brain and it simply won’t go away.