Pirates notebook: Starters' struggles no concern to Hurdle

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 5:54 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — It's early, and it means nothing.

That's still the No. 1 combined theme of spring training at this stage, and it applies even though the Pirates' starting pitchers have put up some poor results, including A.J. Burnett's 1 13-inning bomb Monday in the 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at McKechnie Field.

Burnett was tagged for four runs, four hits, two walks and a hit batsman, running deep into most counts. His spring ERA through three starts: 13.50.

The catch: This game, like most in early March, come with pitchers being given specific areas on which to work. For Burnett on this day, he wasn't permitted to throw his curve — a potent pitch in his repertoire — except for 0-2 and 1-2 counts.

“There were times I wanted to, and I know times Mike wanted it,” Burnett said, referring to catcher Michael McKenry. “But you're here to do the things that get you the most ready for the season. I'm not worried about today. I'm worried about April 1.”

The Opening Day starter isn't the only one with unwieldy numbers. The Pirates' starters have allowed 20 earned runs in 24 innings for a 7.50 ERA. They've also walked 15.

But again, it's early, and it means nothing.

Sure enough, Wandy Rodriguez relieved Monday and tidily pitched three innings with one unearned run and two hits before leaving to join the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic.

Just like Burnett, he shrugged it off by saying he was “just working on location today.”

Burnett and Rodriguez have enough history, enough pedigree that even the manager can have the same reaction.

When Clint Hurdle went to the mound to take the ball from Burnett in mid-inning — never a comfortable moment for a pitcher, no matter the setting — Hurdle cracked a joke: “Well, look at it this way: You weren't pitching spring ball at all last year, so you're already way ahead of the program.”

That, of course, was a reference to Burnett's eye socket being broken by a foul bunt early last spring.

“Made me feel a little better,” Burnett said of Hurdle's quip.

“There's really not anything to a day like this,” Hurdle said. “It's one of those where you got your work in and you move on.”

Tough opening task

Burnett's opponent in that April 1 opener at PNC Park against Chicago will be Jeff Samardzija, Cubs manager Dale Sveum announced, and the choice wasn't an accident: Samardzija pitched a complete game against the Pirates on Sept. 8, his final start of 2012 because of an innings limit.

Samardzija started last season slowly but had a 2.58 ERA in his final 13 starts.

“I want to keep the momentum going,” Samardzija told reporters in Mesa, Ariz. “It's funny we start back in Pittsburgh. I look forward to it.”

Recovery bay

Russell Martin (shoulder) was the designated hitter for a second time in three days and went 0 for 2 with a walk, still hitless on the spring. He's expected to catch in a game “before the weekend,” Hurdle said.

Jeff Karstens (shoulder) will pitch live batting practice Tuesday morning. He remains on a realistic pace to open the season in the rotation provided he pitches in a game soon.

Dejan Kovacevic is a sports columnist for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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