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Bucs find efficient pitching key to success

CHICAGO -- In the modern forest of baseball metrics, analytics and statistics, a very simple tree stands tall for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: 145 pitches.

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Make the other guys throw more than that in a game, and you will win. Avoid it yourself, ditto.

"It's real," Hurdle said. "Some things are just crazy how they work out. It makes sense, and it does play."

Avoiding the "145" is at the core of one of the Bucs' pitching objectives, retiring batters on three pitches or fewer. Excluding extra-inning games, Pittsburgh pitchers have gone over 145 only 13 times in 57 games. Ruling out two other occasions in which the teams cancelled out each other by both going over 145, the Bucs are 4-7 when forced over 145 pitches.

But the main reason Hurdle called 145 "good enough to keep track of" is his own team's success with pushing foes over the number: The Pirates are 11-3 when that happens.

Players, particularly old-school veterans, tend to scoff at reams of statistics. For the analytics-bent Pirates, this has been a challenge Hurdle and his staff are winning.

A prime example of that is A.J. Burnett, who is having the sharpest season of his career because he bought into the efficient pitching approach that underscores the "145." Earlier this season, Burnett logged the first double-strikeout game without a walk of his long career, and in his most recent start delivered 101 pitches in nine innings.

That was the second-fewest pitches Burnett has made in his 20 career starts of nine innings (he needed only 92 pitches in a 2006 shutout of Washington, when he toiled for the Blue Jays).

"Halfway through his career, I don't know if A.J. would have bought into it," Hurdle said. "Now he's the poster boy for it.

"Numbers are there to give you information. What you do with it is up to you."

Touching all the bases

• First: No. 1 prospect Tyler Glasnow, who went on the Minor League disabled list with a sprained ankle a month ago, will make his first rehab start Friday, with the Class-A West Virginia Black Bears.

• Second: No. 2 prospect Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) had a five-inning, 74-pitch extended spring training outing on Thursday that went off without a hitch.

• Third: Wednesday night's 3-2 win over the White Sox was the Pirates' sixth with three runs or fewer in the last 10 games -- the second such stretch in club history. The only other instance, Elias reports, came in August 1910.

• Home: Lefty reliever Tony Watson got the night off for Thursday's game.

"We've got to slow down the magic carpet ride," Hurdle said of Watson, who made his 34th appearance in the Bucs' 65th game Wednesday night.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett