Burnett makes Phillies debut versus Pirates

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 3:15 p.m.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Seeing A.J. Burnett on the pitcher's mound wearing red and white instead of black and gold did not blow Clint Hurdle's mind.

This will be Hurdle's 12th year as a big league manager, his fourth with the Pirates. He has watched a lot of players change teams in this era of big-money free agency.

Burnett made his debut Sunday with the Philadelphia Phillies, who gave him a $16 million contract at the start of spring training. It was only coincidence that Burnett pitched against the Pirates, his employer the past two years.

“It's not the first time it's happened,” Hurdle said. “It's probably a little weird because all I've seen of him in the last two years was in our uniform. But, it was kind of weird seeing him in our uniform (in 2012), because all I'd ever seen him in before that was a Yankees uniform.”

Hurdle paused and shrugged.

“It's part of the game.”

Because he signed with the Phillies once spring training was underway, Burnett reported to camp a couple of days late. It's the reason he did not make his first start until the fifth game of the Grapefruit League season.

“Who knows? I might have planned it that way,” Burnett said with a wink. “Nah, I didn't. It wasn't weird. It's just facing another team, and it just happened to be those guys today.”

Before firing his first pitch, Burnett tipped his cap toward the Pirates dugout.

“It was definitely good to see them,” Burnett said. “I always have respect for everything and everyone in this game, no matter who you play against. Any team I've played on, you're respectful to them. It was a good time.”

Burnett worked the first two innings and allowed one run and one hit. After leadoff batter Jaff Decker struck out, Gregory Polanco ripped a high fastball for a double to left-center. Polanco later scored on a fielder's choice.

Only four of the nine players in the Pirates' starting lineup — Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison and Travis Snider — were Burnett's teammates last season. Burnett plunked two of them with curveballs, hitting Alvarez with a pitch in the first inning and Mercer in the second.

As Alvarez went down to first base, Burnett tossed some good-natured barbs at the Pirates slugger.

“Before, we always laughed because I hit a lot guys on the back foot and they swing,” Burnett said. “Pedro always got a kick out of guys swinging and getting hit. So I said to him, ‘You should have swung. You could've been on the highlight reel. I need you to swing at that. It cost me another six or seven pitches.' ”

Alvarez did not reply to Burnett's banter but laughed about it after the game.

“It's a little inside joke we have,” Alvarez said. “It's always good to see guys doing well when you see them again.”

Burnett's second inning was uneventful, other than the curve that nicked Mercer.

“A.J. and I have been texting back and forth about it, joking around, ever since I got back into the clubhouse,” Mercer said. “It was good to see him again. We all miss him here. He was fun to watch the past two years, and he was a really big part of our team.”

Burnett said that despite his late arrival to Phillies camp, he feels he's a little bit ahead of where he usually is at this point. He mixed in plenty of curveballs with his fastballs.

“I usually don't throw everything the first couple of starts, so that was something new and it wasn't because I was playing the Pirates,” Burnett said, smiling. “Usually, I don't throw a hook until my third start. But I've been working on that and changeups, so I just kind of feel at the point where I can mix everything in earlier rather than waiting.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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