A.J. Burnett’s brilliant eight-inning start Friday night in Cincinnati – the bedrock for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 4-1 win – could very well have been his last appearance in Major League Baseball.
The 36-year-old righthander is known to be mulling retirement, as his contract is ending after the season. If Friday was the final curtain for Burnett, it was quite the way to go out. He threw 66 of 99 pitches for strikes, fanning six Reds while allowing just one extra-base hit, Todd Frazier’s solo home run.
More importantly, the win put the Pirates one victory away from clinching home-field advantage for Tuesday’s wild-card game against the Reds. Francisco Liriano is scheduled to pitch in that winner-take-all showdown, the Bucs’ first postseason contest in 20 years.
Although nothing beyond Tuesday is guaranteed for the Pirates, they have to plan as if they will participate in the National League’s divisional round, which will begin Thursday. To that end, manager Clint Hurdle told the media Saturday morning that Burnett will be Pittsburgh’s Game 1 starter should one be needed.
In the event #Pirates advance to NLDS Hurdle indicated he will employ a four-man rotation. Burnett would open NLDS series
— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) September 28, 2013
As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Sawchik tweeted, the Pirates will shrink their starting rotation by one for playoff purposes. That could mean Burnett in Game 1, followed by rookie Gerrit Cole and possibly Liriano again on normal rest for Game 3. Charlie Morton would also be an option at any point.
Starting Game 1 of any postseason series is an honor, and even though Burnett lost out to Liriano for Tuesday’s elimination contest, the Pirates have to feel good about putting A.J. on the mound if they can extend “Buctober” beyond one day.