A.J. Burnett continues to shine as ace

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NEW YORK -- Before serving as A.J. Burnett's manager, Clint Hurdle paid close attention to Burnett for one season. That was 2010, when as the Texas Rangers hitting coach Hurdle studied Burnett for ways to beat him.

Hurdle took over the Pirates as manager in 2011 and eventually Burnett crossed his radar again.

"I didn't pay a lot of attention in [2011] other than once I heard we had some interest, I looked at some video," Hurdle said.

The Pirates eventually acquired Burnett for the final two years of his five-year contract. He started this season in impressive fashion, establishing himself as one of the best starters in the National League.

Burnett's 66 strikeouts led the NL entering Thursday's games and fell six short of MLB leader Yu Darvish. Burnett's 49 innings pitched ranked sixth in the NL and put him among the league's aces: Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Zimmermann, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright and newcomer Matt Harvey were the five pitchers in front of him.

Burnett did not attain the status he enjoys in the Pirates clubhouse in his past two stops in the majors. He shared a rotation with Roy Halladay in Toronto. In New York, he shared a clubhouse with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.

"Our guys look at him differently than the guys in the other clubhouse," Hurdle said. "He was another guy in New York. He's not another guy in our clubhouse. He's the guy. Sometimes I think that might freak a guy out. It caught him off guard, but he said, 'OK, this could be good.' "

Burnett has not allowed more than two runs in any of his past five starts. He has pitched seven innings in three of them, including the past two. He highly values going deep into his outings.

"I think it's always nice at some point in your career to establish a new relationship with somebody who doesn't have any preconceptions or past conception," Hurdle said. "Him and I just shook hands and said, "Let's draw this up together from this day forward, and see where it goes.' "

Morton to throw today

Charlie Morton is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today, the next step in his recovery after shoulder tightness forced him from his most recent rehabilitation start.

The Pirates paused Morton's minor league rehab assignment, which would have expired May 17. Morton can start a new rehab assignment with a fresh 30-day clock provided he does not appear in a minor league game for seven days. Today is his seventh day without making a rehab outing.

It is unlikely Morton, who is almost done rehabbing from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, will need the full 30 days of his new rehab assignment.

Walker begins rehab

Neil Walker began his rehab assignment with Class AA Altoona Thursday.

Walker, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of a cut on his right hand, is eligible to come off the disabled list Sunday.

Buried treasure

Russell Martin, who did not play since Sunday because of stiffness in his neck, started Thursday against the New York Mets. ... Hurdle said Jose Tabata is nearing full strength after a recent hamstring injury.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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