Burnett says no more talk about Pirates' 2012

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The questions were unavoidable in 2012.

So A.J. Burnett is trying to stop them before anybody starts asking them this year.

How can this year's team avoid last year's fate?

"I'm done talking about last year," Burnett said.

Turns out, he's not alone. In the first full-team meeting a month ago at Pirate City, manager Clint Hurdle told the Pirates he was going to talk about 2012 with them just once -- at that meeting.

"It was short," utilityman Josh Harrison remembers. "He said, 'This is the last time I'm going to talk about last year.' It was one of those things as a team we all felt. We know what happened last year."

Since 2012 started so similarly to 2011, players were pressed by reporters, fans, radio hosts and even opposing players about whether the team could avoid a late-season collapse. They didn't, falling from 16 games over .500 in August to clinch their 20th consecutive losing season.

"Nothing's been pushed aside," Hurdle said. "Nothing's OK. We had that last conversation, and we're all focused forward and ready to get on it."

In 2012, the Pirates tried to learn from their mistakes in 2011. They added depth at catcher and tried to bolster their starting rotation with additions such as Burnett, Erik Bedard and, near the trade deadline, Wandy Rodriguez. But the same problems arose: team ERA spiked, team batting average dropped.

This year, Hurdle hopes the Pirates can learn from the past and move on. Burnett is leading that charge.

"I compare as to when I'm pitching," Burnett said. "If I have a bad start, I'm not going to watch a bad start. The more you talk about negative things, you see negative things, the more you re-embark on them."

Burnett, a clubhouse leader, said he hasn't had to reinforce that message to his teammates because, "I think they're all with it," he said.

But he and the Pirates could have a tough time convincing fans to forget about 2011 and 2012. Fans reluctantly bought in to the team's hot start in both seasons only to be burned.

The Pirates are back in Pittsburgh this morning after spending the past seven weeks in Bradenton, Fla., for spring training. They wrapped up Grapefruit League action Thursday against the New York Yankees, finishing 13-18-1.

Burnett hopes to make the most of this season, his second in Pittsburgh and potentially his last in the major leagues.

"I'm not here for my stats," he said. "I'm trying to win ballgames and bring a championship to Pittsburgh, and we'll see what happens. Just going to go out there and try to lead by example and be able to motivate these guys, and help any way that I can -- that's what keeps me coming back every day."

Hurdle said this week players have a way of hitting the "reset button" at the end of spring training. His goal is to have the whole team erase the bad memories from 2012. Burnett believes the Pirates are capable of making the most of that fresh-start mentality.

"People say that every spring 'We got a good team, we're tied for first,' whatever it is," Burnett said. "But we've got a special thing here, and I think the more the 25 guys on this team believe that for 162 games, that's going to put it together. You can't believe it for half a season, you can't believe it when that first doubt comes in your mind or that first bad game."

That might be easier said than done, considering the past two seasons -- and 18 before that -- have given everyone many reasons to doubt the Pirates.

Spring training report

Game: Pirates 2, Yankees 0.

Starter: Jeff Locke -- 6 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts.

Top batter: Jose Tabata -- 1 for 2, run.

Of note: Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda allowed one hit in six scoreless innings, dropping his spring ERA to 1.53.

News of the day: One day after being named the Pirates' No. 5 starter to begin the season, Jeff Locke had his best outing of the spring. He pitched well against a Yankees lineup that, while hampered by injuries, still carries more talent than most major league teams. "Everything kind of clicked," Locke said. "It was smooth." On the day he was named a starter, Locke said there wasn't any outing this spring that stood out for him. That changed Thursday, he said. He threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 20 batters he faced. "This was the outing I probably threw my changeup the most all spring," Locke said. "The combination from fastball to changeup was what worked for me the best." Hurdle said Wednesday that when Locke develops his changeup, he will be a much more dangerous pitcher. He looked like one Thursday. "The changeup in some offensive counts was an equalizer," Hurdle said.

Injury update: The Pirates do not have an estimated time frame for Jeff Karstens' recovery. Karstens will start the season on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, and general manager Neal Huntington said Thursday the team was trying to reduce that inflammation before starting Karstens on a throwing regiment again. He has not had an MRI, but Huntington said the team would start to look at other options if Karstens is unable to reduce his shoulder inflammation. ... Brandon Inge (bone bruise), Charlie Morton (Tommy John surgery) and Francisco Liriano (broken non-throwing arm) will join the team in Pittsburgh for opening-day festivities before returning to Florida for rehabilitation. Karstens likely will not travel to Pittsburgh.

Buried treasure: Though the Pirates will play the Class AA Altoona Curve Saturday in an exhibition game, some Pirates will play for the Curve and vice versa. James McDonald will start for the Pirates, and Pirates closer Jason Grilli will start for the Curve. The game is at 2:05 p.m. at People's Natural Gas Field in Altoona.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter: @msanserino. First Published March 29, 2013 4:00 AM


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