CHICAGO -- If you win it, they will wear it.
The Pirates have appreciated a noticeable surge in merchandise sales this season, and numbers have spiked since they climbed to the top of the major league standings this past week.
According to online sports merchandise retailer Fanatics.com, sales of Pirates gear this season are up more than 50 percent over the same period in 2012. And the numbers are growing.
Sales from last week were 50 percent higher than in the previous week.
Aramark, which handles the club's merchandise sales at PNC Park, also has appreciated an increase in sales at the team store.
"Sales are brisk and we're doing very well," said David Freireich, a spokesperson for Aramark.
A.J. Burnett (right calf strain) will start Sunday for the Pirates against the Cubs, his first appearance since being placed on the disabled list June 9.
Burnett will not make a rehabilitation start before being activated -- something he was hoping to avoid.
"I just didn't see a need in it," he said. "I think if I had an arm problem, there'd be more of a need in it."
The Pirates will have to make a corresponding roster move Sunday before activating Burnett. They are currently carrying one extra pitcher in the bullpen.
Burnett took a couple of days off from throwing to give his calf a rest but has not lost any arm strength during his time on the disabled list. Hurdle said that with a veteran such as Burnett, the need for a rehabilitation assignment is diminished.
"I think for a younger player, sometimes it's good for their peace of mind going down and knowing that, 'OK, I'm going to let it go gradually and work into it,' " Hurdle said. "A.J's to the point where he's going to let it go."
It also helps the Pirates are playing at Wrigley Field, where Burnett has pitched well throughout his career and has excelled in his tenure with the Pirates.
"Anywhere would be a good place," Burnett said. "But, yeah, I do enjoy it."
When Hurdle was the National League manager for the 2008 All-Star Game, he selected then-Cubs setup man Carlos Marmol to the NL squad.
He hopes Bruce Bochy will do the same this year for a setup pitcher Hurdle believes is deserving: Mark Melancon.
Hurdle said he has had conversations with Bochy about Pirates players he believes should be considered for a spot, a list that includes Melancon, Jason Grilli, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Jeff Locke.
"I hope he has a strong connection there," Melancon said of Hurdle's conversations with Bochy.
It is rare for a setup man to make an All-Star Game and even rarer for two relievers from the same team to make one. But Hurdle said Melancon and Grilli are "absolutely" qualified.
Melancon, who leads the majors with 24 holds and has a 0.89 ERA, said he is in a similar position to Grilli a year ago when the setup pitcher had a great first half but missed the All-Star Game.
"It'd be really neat," he said. "I'd be honored to go."
The Pirates announced the signing of nine international prospects Friday, all from the Dominican Republic.
The list includes five pitchers, three infielders and one outfielder. Among those players are switch-hitting shortstop Adrian Valerio, 16, who signed for a reported $400,000, and outfielder Edison Lantigua, 16, who signed for a reported $275,000.
The Pirates have a $2.5 million bonus pool to spend on international prospects. Teams are subject to league penalties if they exceed their bonus pools.mobilehome - pirates
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.