Pirates notebook: Burnett’s return will give flexibility
ST. LOUIS — When A.J. Burnett rejoins the starting rotation, which might happen as soon as Wednesday, the Pirates might look for ways to give other starters extra rest down the stretch.
On Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington said the plan for Burnett’s return will be announced in the next day or two. Adding Burnett to the mix would provide flexibility so Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, who are reaching career highs in innings pitched, can get time off, if needed.
“We’re very cognizant of the innings and pitch count of all of our pitchers,” Huntington said. “We’ll look to be creative as we move forward. We feel Liriano and Cole are both in an acceptable range. They certainly don’t want the ball taken out of their hands ever, and we need to respect that. At the same time, our goal is to make sure these guys are very productive for years to come.”
Liriano has thrown 1582⁄3 innings over 26 starts. In 2010, he threw 1912⁄3 innings over 31 starts.
Going into Sunday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Cole was at 1732⁄3 innings in 27 starts, his greatest workload in the majors.
Still, as Huntington noted, all innings are not created equal. A 1-2-3 inning against the bottom three hitters in a lineup is less stressful than a 36-pitch inning that includes a couple of hits and runs scored.
That’s an important consideration for healthy pitchers, but even more so for those who are coming back from injuries.
The Pirates have a handful of prospects who are recovering from Tommy John surgery. Without delving into specifics, Huntington said the club uses “guidelines and estimations” to manage their workloads during the rehab process.
“It is much more art than science, in terms of how to bring a player back,” Huntington said. “We believe we’re doing things the right way. We wish there was an exact map to follow, but there is not. There are a huge number of variables that go into it.”
Planet of the aches
Utilityman Travis Ishikawa began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday. Ishikawa, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 23 with a lower back strain, likely will rejoin the Pirates on Monday or Tuesday. … Minor league pitcher Jameson Taillon was sent home for a short break before resuming his rehab from elbow and hernia surgeries. Taillon will return to Pirate City later this month for the start of Instructional League. … Casey Sadler (right elbow strain) is making slow progress after having a platelet-rich plasma injection. “We’re prepping him to be ready to go to compete to make this club next spring training,” Huntington said, adding Sadler has not begun a throwing program.
Riding the red-eye
After Sunday’s prime-time game against the Cardinals, the Pirates were scheduled to land in Cincinnati after 2 a.m. Monday. The first pitch of Monday’s game against the Reds will come less than 11 hours later.
“It’s a tax you pay on success,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Hurdle downplayed any ill effects of the late-night flight and limited time to sleep between games. He will allow the players to report to Great American Ball Park later than usual and canceled mandatory outdoor batting practice.
Huntington said left-hander Steven Brault might be in line to open 2016 in Triple-A. Brault started this season with High-A Bradenton, then went 9-3 with a 2.00 ERA in 15 starts with Double-A Altoona. “He’s absolutely positioned himself as a guy who could make that jump (to Indy),” Huntington said. Brault, acquired last winter from the Baltimore Orioles in the Travis Snider trade, will pitch in the Arizona Fall League. … Indianapolis, which wrapped up its home schedule Saturday, set a single-season attendance record of 662,536. Over the past four seasons, Indy has drawn more than 2.5 million, the most of any U.S.-based minor league team.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.