If baseball hangs onto A.J. Burnett one more season, he's likely to return in Pirates black and gold.
Burnett will be a top priority for the Pirates to bring back in 2014, general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday. Burnett has indicated the feeling is mutual if he doesn't retire.
"We will do everything within our power to keep A.J. here," Huntington said. "And our goal is to have A.J. as a Pittsburgh Pirate next year, absolutely."
Burnett punctuated a strong year with a masterful 12-strikeout performance Saturday night and the feedback from him has been positive, Huntington said.
"That he's loved it here. [He] felt wanted and welcome here both publicly and privately, meaning both by the fans and in our clubhouse," Huntington said. "And if he decides to continue to pitch he absolutely has an open mind for Pittsburgh and would love to finish his career as a Pirate. We'd love to continue that dialogue."
As for trade deadline additions Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and John Buck? Huntington was far less committal.
"It's all matter of moving the pieces and parts to the puzzle," Huntington said. "We've got X number of dollars to spend, some guys internally who will continue to get more money in arbitration, how we do we put these parts of the puzzle together?
"We'd love them all to return. That's not going to be financially possible. That's the reality of small- to mid-markets. We're going to have to make some tough choices."
Huntington said a four-man pitching rotation is the likely route for the Pirates in the postseason.
That includes Francisco Liriano, Burnett, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole and leaves off All-Star Jeff Locke, who has been challenged the second half and was chased Sunday after a five-run first inning.
"Our challenge is we've got four guys we feel completely comfortable winning against any team in baseball," Huntington said. "Charlie's throwing the ball great. Gerrit is throwing the ball phenomenal here in his last handful of outings. A.J. [had a] great start [Saturday] night, probably his best of the year and Liriano continues to be lights out for the most part."
Huntington said if the schedule requires a need for Locke, he is confident handing the ball to his former All-Star.
"We've got four guys we feel completely comfortable with. If Jeff Locke, for whatever reason, injury, fatigue, the way the postseason lines out, if we had to start Jeff Locke in a postseason game we'd have complete confidence there, too," Huntington said.
Jose Tabata cracked the leadoff spot in the lineup again Sunday, despite a healthy Starling Marte for a simple reason: He's hot.
Tabata was 6 for 11 in his past three games (.545) including a leadoff home run Friday, and was batting .317 in the leadoff position, .323 this month heading into the game.
"This has been as good as we've seen him since I saw him in April of 2011," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The consistency of the bat, he's been very gritty in the batter's box as well. He's been able to grind out some very good at-bats for us, very aggressive swings. He's played solid defensively. He's gotten on base. He's run the bases well. It's been a very good run for Jose, a very good confidence-builder for him as well."
Rotation in Chicago
Hurdle said the Pirates rotation in Chicago will go in order: Morton (7-4, 3.35 ERA) tonight, Cole (9-7, 3.23) Tuesday and Liriano (16-7, 2.88) Wednesday. The Cubs are scheduled to go tonight with Jeff Samardzjia (8-12, 4.42 ERA), Tuesday with Chris Rusin (2-5, 3.52) and Wednesday with Jake Arrieta (3-2, 3.94).
Game time change
The Pirates game in Cincinnati Saturday has been changed from 4:10 p.m. to 1:05 p.m. The time was changed to accommodate Fox.
Catcher Russell Martin left the game in the fifth inning, with discomfort in his left knee, according to the Pirates.
Hurdle said he had no update "other than we felt it was best to get him out right then. We use our eyes, talk to our players. And his preference would've been to stay in."
Martin was not available after the game.
Attendance tops 2.2 million
The Pirates drew 38,699 fans Sunday to PNC Park, the 23rd sellout of the season. That also brought the season total through the turnstile well above the 2 million mark: 2,256,862. That is the second most all time at the stadium.
First Published September 23, 2013 4:00 AM