A.J. Burnett felt so “fresh” and “efficient” that he kept getting up during Sunday’s simulated game.
Burnett was supposed to throw three simulated innings, but the veteran right-hander kept removing the towel wrapping his strained right elbow between innings and going back to the bullpen mound at PNC Park. Burnett threw five simulated innings and reached 71 pitches.
Burnett (flexor tendon) reported he is free of pain, and is targeting the Sept. 15-17 series against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park for his return to the rotation.
Burnett is scheduled to throw another simulated game Friday in St. Louis.
“Maybe I could have pitched today? It went that good,” Burnett said Sunday. “Everything is fresh; everything is in the zone. Very efficient work today.”
Burnett threw 40-plus fastballs, 20 curveballs and a handful of changeups. He said he has made remarkable progress since he last pitched in Cincinnati on July 30 when he allowed eight runs in 4 1⁄3 innings.
“No comparison,” said Burnett of how his arm felt Sunday versus July 30. “It’s pretty clean right now.”
When and if Burnett does return, the Pirates will have six starting pitchers for five spots. Burnett said pitching out of the bullpen is not an option.
“No interest in rehab,” Burnett said, “no interest bullpen.”
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was not willing to reveal who would be the odd man out of the rotation, or if the Pirates would consider a six-man rotation, when Burnett returns. He did think Burnett’s timetable of a return in mid-September is plausible.
“If that’s the way it plays out, that’s great. If we need more time we will take more time,” Huntington said. “The report from Ray (Searage) was he threw the ball very well.”
However, curbing expectations may be necessary. Veteran starters Doug Fister and Matt Cain dealt with flexor strains this spring, and each has career-worst ERAs and fastball velocity this season.
Glasnow an unlikely call-up
While Burnett appears to be on track for a September return, Huntington all but ruled another option — top prospect Tyler Glasnow — being called up to bolster the pitching staff.
Glasnow has made six starts at Triple-A, where he is overpowering batters with his fastball, posting a 0.81 ERA and striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings. The Pirates have less need for Glasnow after improving their bullpen and starting rotation depth, and Glasnow still could refine areas like his control as he is walking 4.6 batters per nine at Triple-A.
“Left the door open because he’s doing some really good things, but he continues to remind us there are still some things he needs to do,” Huntington said. “At this point he is not on our radar to come up here in September or October. We still feel there is development (needed).
“(Glasnow) is not in our plans.”
Pirates shuffle rotation
The Pirates announced Gerrit Cole will start Tuesday in Milwaukee, following Monday’s off day, and will be followed by Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano against the Brewers.
J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton and Cole will pitch against the Cardinals in the following series. Liriano gets an extra day of rest because of the rotation realignment.
It also allows Cole to line up to face the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers later in the month.
Makeup date for Cubs rainout
The Pirates and Cubs will make up their Aug. 3 postponed game Sept. 15 as part of a day-night, split double-header at PNC Park, the Pirates announced.
The first game will begin at 1:35 p.m., followed by the regularly scheduled game at 7:05 p.m.
Tickets for the Aug. 3 game are good for the 1:35 p.m. game.
Who’s going to get the call?
Major league teams can expand their rosters to 40 players Tuesday, but Huntington said the Pirates will not overcrowd their clubhouse.
Huntington cited “a catcher, couple (of) extra arms, couple (of) extra bats” that could join the club.
The Pirates have one open spot on the 40-man roster.
Huntington indicated it is unlikely the Pirates will complete a trade before the Monday deadline to acquire a player via waiver trade and have him eligible for the postseason.