BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett found the perfect solution to not allowing the Pirates' new emphasis on running-game control distract him from pitching.
Don't let anyone get on base.
On Saturday, Burnett surrendered a game-opening single to Darin Mastroianni -- whom he then promptly picked off first base -- then retired the next 11 Twins he faced in the Bucs' 5-4 loss.
The Bucs' Opening Day starter fittingly was their first pitcher to go beyond the fourth. Burnett logged 4 2/3 innings, yielding two hits and being charged with two runs.
"It's good to go through that," Burnett said of unexpectedly going out for a fifth inning. "After four, they came up to me and said, 'You're at 45 pitches.' I said, 'What? Don't I normally have that after two innings?'
"But it's good, man, you want to be in that situation, so you know what it feels like the next time out."
Manager Clint Hurdle had a similar view of his ace's extended day.
"He was able to go up and down five times," Hurdle said, alluding to breaks between innings. "His fastball command was much better, in and out. He spun some balls very, very well, threw some very good changeups. So a very good outing for A.J."
In each of his first two starts, Burnett had permitted four runs each time out (although a total of only five earned runs). Reaching the Spring Training stage of mixing in more curveballs was an obvious advantage.
"I felt a lot better than last time out. I got a little two-seamer happy then," Burnett said. "Everything plays off the four-seamer, and that was the difference today, attacking with that pitch and getting ahead. It's just good to get out there every five days.
"It's a process, not going to happen overnight. The more times you go out there, the sharper you get. This was sharper than the last two; I expect my next one to be even sharper still."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.