PITTSBURGH -- Could the National League Player of the Week be on his way to becoming the NL's pitcher of the year?A.J. Burnett may not yet lead that conversation, but he is tied for the league lead in wins, and probably no other pitcher in the league can approach his club leadership in intangibles. "He has got to be noticed," said Burnett's catcher, Rod Barajas. "When you look at what he's done and how consistent he's been, I don't think many other pitchers have done what he has." Burnett is pitching in his 14th season and has won 135 games -- but he has never received a single vote in Cy Young Award balloting, either in the NL (he began his career with the Marlins in 1999-2005) or in the AL. "When he got here, he got into the mindset of mastering his craft. He's had good periods in the past, then stretches where things went sideways," said manager Clint Hurdle, who admits to never before having a comparable pitcher on any of his staffs. "I've never had an ace before, in all the years I managed. This is the first time I've had a guy with the experience that A.J. brought." The subplot of Burnett's season is his renewed and continuing success with Barajas, his primary catcher during his 18-win season in 2008 in Toronto. In two seasons, their teams now are 32-12 with the Burnett-Barajas battery, and his own personal record is 27-10. Between the Blue Jays and the Pirates, Burnett has won 20 of his last 24 decisions with Barajas behind the plate.
Like those before him, Tabata can gain from demotion
PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates sent outfielder Jose Tabata to Triple-A Indianapolis on July 3, they were demoting an established player who had already appeared in 265 games at the Major League level.The move was not unprecedented. As D-backs outfielder Chris Young learned in 2009, a player who isn't cutting it runs the risk of being sent down, no matter his experience or accomplishments. Young debuted with Arizona in August 2006. He was a regular player the next two seasons, hitting .237 with 32 home runs the following year and .248 with 22 long balls the season after. But through 103 games in 2009, Young was batting just .194 with seven home runs. The D-backs demoted him to Triple-A Reno on Aug. 10. "I just tried to put things in perspective, and just tried to make the best out of it," said Young, who benefited from talking with Mike Cameron, a veteran who dealt with a similar situation. "I mean, I don't think anybody's happy to get sent down, but I got a chance to get some good, quality work in, and you know, not be angry at the world, just try to better myself and understand that I was still young and I still had a long career ahead of me." Young performed so well in Reno that Arizona recalled him after only 13 games. During that stretch, he hit .370 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Young finished the 2009 season by playing 31 games with the big league club, slugging eight home runs -- including three in a Sept. 6 game at Coors Field -- and batting .263 in that span. "I had a lot of success when I went down there," Young said. "It helps to get your confidence back. I was able to come back up a couple weeks later, and the confidence stayed. I actually finished really strong." This season, Young is hitting .216 with 11 home runs and 29 RBIs. He said he's glad the experience happened to him as a 25-year-old, rather than a player who's further along in his career. "I think it's tougher for guys who are older, if it happens to them," Young said. "But for a younger guy, you're like, 'If I can clean my stuff up a little bit and fine tune my game, I can get back up to the big leagues and still play 10 more years up there.' If you look at it like that, I think you'll be just all right." Tabata is 23 years old. As of Monday, he had spent 29 games this season in Indianapolis, where he's batting .321 with five doubles and 13 RBIs. He's also gone 4-for-6 in steal attempts and scored 18 runs. "I heard that the last week has been some of the best baseball he's ever played," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Monday. Indeed, Tabata batted .432 and posted a .500 on-base percentage in his last 10 games. It seems that after some initial sulking -- as Pirates general manager Neal Huntington put it -- Tabata's attitude has come around, which was a concern when he was in Pittsburgh earlier this year. At the time of Tabata's demotion, Hurdle said, "He's not a lazy player. I think there's just some confusion going on right now. You see balls drop in front of him. He wants to catch them. He doesn't make a good first move and he backs off. It's all about first movement, whether it be in the box, swinging the bat. There's just some indecision. And I think sometimes we've just got too much going on upstairs." A proper mindset is vital in making the best out of a situation such as Tabata's, Young said. That's helped by the realization that baseball is a business, and that transactions happen. It also doesn't hurt that media scrutiny is less intense at the Minor League level, either. When all is said and done, Young said the experience could definitely help Tabata. "I remember playing against him," Young said. "He's a great player, so I'm sure he'll be just fine, as long as he keeps his head on straight."
Hot Harrison earns spot in Monday's lineup
PITTSBURGH -- Josh Harrison, who had two hits and made a nifty defensive play in Sunday's 6-2 victory in Cincinnati, was back in the starting lineup and Pedro Alvarez was back on the bench for Monday night's homestand opener.It was all about Harrison's hot bat -- he went 7-for-16 in the just-concluded road trip and was hitting .407 (11-for-27) across a longer stretch -- and left-handed rookie Wade Miley starting for the D-backs. "I'm trying to match up the way I feel is best for the team we're playing and the pitcher on the mound," said manager Clint Hurdle, who also is conscious of the club being in the early stages of 20 consecutive playing days. "I'll be getting everybody involved." However, it may have also had a little to do with what has become a dynamic duo at the top of the batting order: Harrison was again in the two-hole, ahead of Andrew McCutchen, and the Pirates had played .667 ball the first 15 times Hurdle had gone with that alignment. In their games as the speedy two-three combo, Harrison had scored 12 runs and McCutchen had driven in 15 while hitting .407 behind Harrison. Harrison's ability to make contact plays well in front of McCutchen. Harrison recently compiled the Majors' longest streak of the season without striking out, 19 consecutive games through July 30, until the Cubs' Alberto Cabrera rang him up on Aug. 1.
Juan Cruz (shoulder inflammation) stepped up his recovery with a rehab outing Monday night in Double-A Altoona. Cruz was due to go one inning or 25 pitches. Kevin Correia is set to make a spot start on Wednesday, two weeks after being removed from the regular rotation. He has pitched only once in the interim, a two-inning relief appearance on July 29 in Houston, but he said he's been able to stay sharp. "It's not an ideal situation," Correia said, "but it's late enough in the season and I've thrown enough that I should be OK. I've thrown bullpens and felt real strong, making all my pitches." A.J. Burnett, who got the National League Player of the Week Award, isn't the only pitcher in the Pittsburgh organization to receive a weekly award. Indianapolis righty Rick VandenHurk was named the International League Pitcher of the Week after going 2-0, with 14 strikeouts in 13 innings. VandenHurk has an overall record of 11-3 with a 3.34 ERA with the Indians.
"We want to be reactive, we want to be proactive -- we don't want to be over-reactive. We'll do what we feel we need for us to push our season forward in the best fashion we can ... and also take care of business along the way." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on why his club did not respond to having four batters hit by Reds pitchers during last weekend's series in Cincinnati.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.