Burnett falls victim to LA's Kershaw, Bucs' cold bats
LOS ANGELES -- You can take Pirates bats out of the cold. But you can't take the cold out of the Pirates bats.
Apologies to whomever coined that English proverb, but apparently it will take more than higher temperatures to warm up the Bucs. After scoring a total of six runs on the three-game season-opening homestand, the Pirates fled the near-freezing temps of Pittsburgh and looked forward to the best thing for hitters other than hanging curveballs: Warm weather.
In Southern California, however, the offense that has gone south stayed there, as the Bucs were again blanked by the Dodgers, 1-0, at Dodger Stadium, better known as Pittsburgh's House of Pain. The Pirates have now lost eight straight games in Chavez Ravine, in some of which they actually scored.
"We're not finding hits, and without scoring, no way you're gonna win a game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stated the obvious after his team had been held to two hits for the second straight night. "You're watching big league baseball."
On Saturday night, we were certainly watching big league pitching.
Applying the muffler for the Dodgers was left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the second consecutive former Cy Young Award winner to hurl two-hit ball against the Bucs. On Friday, it had been Zack Greinke for 6 1/3 innings. Kershaw dominated for seven, walking one and striking out nine. Both nights, the spotless Los Angeles bullpen nailed the coffin.
Kershaw's dominance was just as tough on A.J. Burnett as it was on Pirates hitters. The Bucs righty pitched into the sixth inning, giving up a run and four hits while also fanning nine, only to exit on the hook for a loss.
"That's a pitchers' duel right there," Burnett said. "I was going up against one of the best, so I tried to follow what he was doing. It was my first time pitching against him -- the first time really seeing him. It fires me up to be in a game like that."
In 11 innings this young season, Burnett has surrendered four runs -- and fanned 19. He has two losses.
Should this season, off to a fabulous start on various fronts for Pirates pitching, turn into a revival of 1968 -- that season when pitchers ruled hitters the way Czars once ruled Russia -- Burnett could be the modern Ray Sadecki. The St. Louis left-hander led the Majors that season with 18 losses -- alongside an ERA of 2.91.
"I wanna go up against every ace, that's what I'm here for," said Burnett, whose Opening Day loss had been to the Cubs' No. 1, Jeff Samardzija. "I don't worry about run support. That's beyond my control. That's when we get into trouble, when we start pointing fingers, start finding excuses. My job is to keep my team in the game -- 'til that man [Hurdle] takes me out of the game -- no matter what the score is."
"A.J. came to play," Hurdle said. "He was amped up early. You saw the velocity, and the breaking ball was sharp. He battled. He threw everything he had at them."
Burnett wouldn't argue.
"I left it on the field, I know that," he said.
It is remarkable how huge one run now feels against the Pirates. Burnett fell behind by that insurmountable margin in the third inning. With two outs, Carl Crawford beat out a roller to shortstop for an infield single, the Dodgers' first hit. Crawford stole his second base of the night -- he'd walked in the first -- and scored when Mark Ellis responded to a 2-and-2 duster by ripping the full count pitch into left for a single.
"We did a pretty good job with A.J. tonight," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly noted. "This is a guy that's got good stuff. But we see him at 60 pitches after three. We weren't exactly banging him around, but we were able to keep fighting him. As good as Clayton pitched, they were right in it. You're still nervous till the end."
So that was the Pirates' moral victory, and it was a significant one: On a night Kershaw was at his best, the Bucs spent the whole night only one mistake behind him.
"We were a swing or two away from potentially winning a game," said Pirates batting coach Jay Bell. "It'd be nicer if we had three wins right now, but it's early in the season. The results aren't there yet, but I see some really good at-bats, and if we continue to have the same approach, we'll see a lot of results."
Starling Marte hit Kershaw's first pitch of the game on a line to center for a single. The left-hander made 70 other pitches before the Bucs got another baserunner, again Marte, on an infield single with two outs in the sixth.
Marte was also the only runner to advance on Kershaw as far as second, on Neil Walker's sacrifice bunt following the first-inning single. Marte then essentially erased himself, trying for third on Andrew McCutchen's grounder to short.
Remarkably, on a night they had only three total baserunners, another Pirates player managed to get himself thrown out on the bases: Russell Martin drew Kershaw's lone walk with two outs in the seventh -- and got himself picked off by the lefty.
"Marte's was a bad baseball decision. And Russell -- he just got picked off, it wasn't a running situation or anything," Hurdle said. "Those are mistakes you don't want to happen when you're not swinging the bat, but we made 'em and we paid for 'em. Who knows what might've happened? But they didn't help our cause."