The Philadelphia Phillies have announced that newly acquired starting pitcher A.J. Burnett will make his 2014 debut against his former team in the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. Being a Pirates fan, why would you care if he makes his debut against the Pirates or any other team? It’s Spring Training; it doesn’t count for anything. Perhaps it’s only a pride issue, almost like Philadelphia is rubbing the Pirates’ nose in their failed re-signing of Burnett? Well, if that’s the case, here’s why you shouldn’t care.
Well, for starters, it’s something that the Phillies are presumably doing to create some buzz and excitement about their new acquisition. If that’s indeed the case, that’s a little bit too bush league for my liking for one simple reason — that’s the fifth game of the Spring schedule. The Phillies and Pirates cannot think that their fans are dumb enough to believe that to just be a coincidence, right? (If you are a Pirates fan, this would be a terrific opportunity to drill the giant softball I’ve thrown to you and make a comment about the intelligence of the good people of Philadelphia). The Phillies had four prior games to get Burnett some work, yet they chose this one for him to make his debut? That’s not a coincidence, it’s for entertainment and publicity.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story, but you’ve just taken a card out of your sleeve that could have potentially better been utilized in the middle of the season when the two teams are set to face each other. If the Phillies are having a somewhat “down” season, this would have been a chance to fill the stadium with people that want to see Burnett face his former team — money in the Phillies’ pocket. If the Phillies are having a good season and are potentially in contention for the playoffs, you’ve just motivated your newest pitcher to go out on the bump and shut down his former team. It’s a win-win. With this Spring Training start, it seems like the story will have lost some of its luster if it resurfaces in July.
Aside from these games not counting, another reason not to care is because Burnett isn’t going to face the “real” Pirates lineup, and even if he does, it’s only going to be for an inning or two. You are going to see names of guys you’ve never even heard of before trying to prove themselves to the Pirates’ organization. You aren’t going to take his performance to mean anything if he goes out and shuts down everyone in order, right? You, along with the Pittsburgh media, will attribute his performance to this simple reason — it’s not the real lineup he shut down.
The Pirates are set to face the Phillies in two regular season series, the first of which the Pirates will play host on July 4, 2014 for a three-game series. The final series will be four games and will start on September 8, 2014. This gives both teams’ fans a 60 percent chance of seeing Burnett in July and an 80 percent chance of seeing Burnett in September. The Phillies should have played the card at either of those times. Playing it right now in Spring Training is a Busch League move meant to sell tickets and create a news story for the Philadelphia media. Don’t take it for anything more than that.