Pirates Notebook: Burnett Throws Third Bullpen

BRADENTON, Fla. –Right-hander A.J. Burnett continues to make progress back from eye surgery to repair the fractured orbital bone in his right eye while fouling on a bunt attempt at Pirate City.

Burnett threw a 52-pitch bullpen session at McKechnie Field on Wednesday morning with pitching coach Ray Searage looking on. It was the third bullpen Burnett has thrown since he returned to Bradenton.

“A lot better today,” Burnett said of how he felt afterwards. “That was another reason why I got an extra bullpen in. I could have went to live BP, but I felt like I wasn’t ready. The eye’s fine. Strength feels good. Just timing and mechanics, things like that. Today was definitely a big step. It was a lot better than the previous two.”

“It’s all step by step. I’ve got a sim game coming up now, and after that, it’s time to go. Two days off, throw. We’ll see how it goes…Just more pitches. I like to feel. Getting back on the mound. I use the phrase, ‘one legged table.’ because that’s what I felt like. That’s why I had another bullpen. Get that timing. I’m still behind these guys quite a bit, so the more I can get up there, the better off I’ll be.”

Burnett is in his second portion of his return to pitch program. The first phase was recovering from the surgery itself.

“My workouts haven’t gotten to where I want them to yet,” Burnett said. “They will once games start and I get on a five-day routine. Each day is gradually putting more in there, and going more and longer. We got a live BP coming up, and I’m going to roll with it.”

The right-hander is tentatively scheduled to throw a live batting practice on Saturday.

Hanrahan Effective This Spring

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan continues to have a solid spring so far. Over five appearances, Hanrahan has allowed one run on two hits over five frames with 10 strikeouts. His 10 whiff’s lead the team.

The reason for his success has been incorporating his slider more during his outings. Last season, the All-Star relied on his fastball as his weapon of choice. The year prior, Hanrahan favored his slider. During the spring, Hanrahan has been working on using both pitches, and it’s paying off.

“He’s been working on his slider,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Throwing that a little bit more. He got away from it last year because it really wasn’t a necessary pitch. He was able to pound the fastball and get outs, be very effective. He’s working on that, repeating delivery without being able to throw it also behind in counts as well as a put away pitch. He’s making good progress.”

Cruzin’ in the ‘pen

Righty reliever Juan Cruz has been impressive this spring out of the bullpen. The 33-year-old, who signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh this past January, has given up just one run over his five games (6.0 innings). Cruz is battling for a spot in the Pirates bullpen.

“I think he’s only got marked on one outing,” Hurdle said. “He’s thrown all three of his pitches with good command. The fastball velocity has been consistent. He’s been able to throw his slider and his change-up ahead in counts, and to get back in counts. He’s been effective so far.”

Bullpen Heating Up

The bullpen competition continues to heat up this spring. Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli and Chris Resop seem to be the only locks. Non-roster invites such as Cruz, and young arms in Jared Hughes, Tony Watson, Daniel Moskos, Chris Leroux, make up an impressive competition.

Hurdle said the bullpen this year will be a strength once again.

“We’d  like to see less volume for them,” Hurdle said. “We were able to manage their usage the first four months. The last two month, they got dog piled a little bit. They had to pick up more innings then we really wanted them to pick up. They’ve all got another year of experience. They’ve got another year of reading swings in their division and in their league. It’s going to help their experience. I think another year of confidence. They know their roles out there.”