Pitcher Burnett 1-hits Cardinals in Pirates' victory

Travis Sawchik
| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

A thrower can no-hit a team. A.J. Burnett no-hit San Diego on May 12, 2001, while with the Florida Marlins. He threw harder then. He was a kid with electric stuff, but he also often had command issues, walking nine batters in his no-hitter.

Burnett nearly had his second no-hitter Wednesday in a 5-0 win over St. Louis. The Pirates' ace did not allow a hit until Carlos Beltran lined a hanging curveball into right field with two outs in the seventh.

Burnett is different from that kid with Miami. He doesn't have the same stuff, but he's more in command, evolving to become durable and diversified enough to record his 2,000th career strikeout Wednesday.

“My dad texted me (afterward): ‘Best command. Who is that guy out there?' ” Burnett said.

Last season, when he won 16 games after being acquired at a discount from New York, Burnett threw softer — his fastball still sits at 92 mph — but he walked fewer than three batters per nine innings for the first time since 2006. He didn't issue a walk Wednesday. He has struck out 35 batters in 24 innings this season.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has seen Burnett (1-2, 2.63 ERA) evolve even from 2010 when he scouted Burnett as the Texas Rangers' hitting coach.

“He was a thrower with big stuff early. Electric stuff,” Hurdle said. “The big inning was problematic for him. The wild pitches were in play. … (Wednesday) he had fastball command, all four corners, breaking ball back door and back foot for strikes.”

Burnett struck out Beltran in the second inning for his 2,000th strikeout. He received a standing ovation from a sparse crowd, and the game paused as Pirates infielders also congratulated him. Burnett trails only Andy Pettitte (2,327), CC Sabathia (2,232) and Roy Halladay (2,080) in strikeouts among active pitchers.

The milestone speaks to the skills and transformation from thrower to pitcher that Burnett has made during a career played out largely in obscurity. The paid attendance Wednesday, for instance, was announced at 9,570.

“You have to have skills. You have to have stuff. You have to go to the post for a long time,” Hurdle said. “If you are just a thrower, you don't get 2,000 strikeouts.”

Since having Tommy John surgery in 2003, Burnett has been steady: six seasons of 31 starts or more. He's added a two-seam fastball, improved fastball command, and the Arkansas native still has his signature spiked curve, which had sharp break Wednesday. David Freese flailed at a curve out of the strike zone in the sixth for Burnett's eighth strikeout of the game. Burnett allowed just one hit, no runs, over seven innings.

He needed only Travis Snider's first-inning RBI single that scored Starling Marte, who led off the game with a triple to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.

Said Hurdle: “He's learned how to pitch.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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