Considering it was the first-ever Opening Day start in his 14-year career, A.J. Burnett certainly did his part to put on a show on Opening Day for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Yes, understandably, the 36-year old isn’t likely to get a whole lot of attention considering that he was outpitched by Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija (who threw eight dominant innings of shutout baseball); but, taking away a shaky first inning, and what Pirates fans are left with is the image of the veteran ace that Burnett was expected to be in 2013.
That said, it was quite a loud mistake: with Starlin Castro on base, Burnett made a mistake on the very first pitch he delivered to Anthony Rizzo, who promptly crushed it to deep right center to put the Pirates behind by a 2-0 deficit that they never recovered from.
Still, you can’t say the veteran didn’t settle down. Through the next 4.2 innings, Burnett was simply a strikeout machine: the right-handed recorded his next six outs all by strikeouts, adding three more for good measure before a third earned run given up on a double knocked him out of the game in the sixth.
No, the eye-popping 10 whiffs through his 5.2 total innings it’s not quite the same as getting a win, and Burnett didn’t make it through six innings. Still, putting on that kind of strikeout display isn’t easy to do, even against the Cubs, and the fact that a whopping nine of them were on swinging strikes suggests that Burnett was fooling a whole lot of batters on the opposing side.
Sometimes a team just have to tip their caps for being outdueled, and though it might not have seemed like it, Burnett did his job in matching Samardzija while he was still on the mound.
For a Pirates team that’s going to be relying on the right-hander to carry them to the next level in the NL Central in 2013, I’d imagine it’d be hard to find too many negatives out of Burnett’s first outing, even though it resulted in a loss.