1 bad pitch spoils Burnett's outing

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A.J. Burnett's rosin bag literally exploded in his hand and scattered white powder into the wind and all over the right-hander in the top of the fifth inning Monday, getting on his face, in his mouth, everywhere.

That wasn't the only thing that tainted the veteran's first Opening Day start against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

Burnett struck out 10 but gave up a two-run, first-pitch home run to Anthony Rizzo in the first inning.

With his teammates producing nothing on offense against Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, the Pirates' ace took the loss.

“One pitch to Rizzo and a rosin bag, that was my day,” Burnett said.

Burnett went 5 23 innings, allowed three runs and six hits and walked just one in addition to the 10 strikeouts, which tied a franchise record for the most by a Pirates pitcher on Opening Day. A lot of the strikeouts came late in counts, however, and Burnett left the game having thrown 98 pitches.

“I had good ‘out' pitches, but I felt like I couldn't get to them early enough,” he said. “That's why my pitch count was up. Overall, you want to get out there and go a little further, little deeper, but it was the first one and it was a blast out there any way you look at it.”

Burnett was on the disabled list with a fractured orbital bone for Opening Day in 2012. Erik Bedard got that start and pitched well for the Pirates, but his teammates couldn't do anything in a 1-0 loss to Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies. The loss Monday felt similar, with Samardzija giving up two hits, no runs, one walk and striking out nine in eight innings.

Where Halladay had the better pedigree last year, on Monday it was Samardzija who was somewhat in awe of the guy he was pitching against.

“I've been a big A.J. fan for a long time,” said Samardzija, who moved from the bullpen to the rotation last year but pitched a complete game against the Pirates in his final start of 2012 before he was shut down for the season. “We actually throw kind of similar pitches. He's got a big curveball and I don't, but we're both big, long guys who throw a lot of sinkers.

“I've watched him pitch for a long time, so to go out and pitch against a guy like A.J. was exciting and really put things into perspective on what was going on and where I was at.”

Burnett struck out six of seven batters he faced in the second and third innings. Nate Schierholtz walked and Welington Castillo doubled to begin the fourth, but Burnett struck out Luis Valbuena and Brent Lillibridge, and Samardzija grounded out to third.

“His curveball was on, and he was aggressive,” catcher Russell Martin said. “Even when he fell behind in the count, he was still making good pitches. I thought he did a good job of fighting.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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