If A.J. Burnett continues his successful rehabilitation, he could join the major league rotation by the end of the month, general manager Neal Huntington said.
Burnett will make another rehabilitation start Wednesday for Class A Bradenton, Huntington said. The Pirates would like him to reach 100 pitches while on his rehabilitation assignment, and Huntington said he could return by the end of April.
He allowed one run on two hits Friday with Bradenton in 42/3 innings. He was scheduled to pitch until he reached four innings or 65-70 pitches, Huntington said.
"He got his work in, got his pitch count up," Huntington said. "Another great step in the process for A.J."
Burnett had surgery March 2 to repair a broken orbital bone beneath his right eye and will go through his own version of spring training to increase his fitness and pitch count.
"He felt healthy," Huntington said. "He had to move off the mound a couple of times, felt like he threw some good breaking balls, felt like there was some rust in some other ones."
Burnett could join the rotation not long after Charlie Morton returns, which may be as early as April 14 against the Giants in San Francisco. Once Burnett returns, the Pirates will have to remove someone from the rotation.
The three starters who pitched in the opening series -- Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens and James McDonald -- provided quality outings. They combined for 19 innings, four earned runs, four walks -- one intentional -- and nine strikeouts in two out of three victories against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"They all understand their roles, they understand the importance that, the pitching's going to take you," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It takes you good places, it takes you bad places.
"Our guys have something to prove. They got to a good place last year. They weren't able to finish as strong as they'd like."
Matt Hague's first major league hit, which he collected Sunday, was a run-scoring single in the eighth inning that tied the score against the Phillies, 4-4. The Pirates would go on to win, 5-4.
"I was trying to put a good at-bat together there," he said. "It found a hole, and I'll take it."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel countered left-handed pinch-hitter Nate McLouth with lefty Antonio Bastardo, who held lefties to a .145 average in 2011. Hurdle replaced McLouth with Yamaico Navarro, who walked, and Hague later replaced Pedro Alvarez.
"I just think he's in a position now where he can give us that good at-bat," Hurdle said. "He's not afraid to hit with two strikes."
Hague hit Bastardo's 1-0 fastball to shallow left field.
"Going up there, hearing the loud fans, I was a little nervous," he said.
Hague earned one of the final spots on the bench after hitting .400 with seven home runs in spring training. He made his major league debut Saturday, playing first base, and went 0 for 3. He said he will probably get a case for the ball from his first hit and give it to his parents.
Minor league shortstop Chase d'Arnaud was removed from a game Saturday with Class AAA Indianapolis after a pitch hit him in the head.
"We'll evaluate [Sunday] and then evaluate as we go forward," Huntington said. "At this point in time it's just precautionary."
First Published April 9, 2012 12:00 AM