Rod Barajas heard the boos when he fouled out to start the eighth inning. He knew folks at PNC Park were honked off at him — not only for the 0 for 3 he was carrying at that point, but for his whole, miserable first few weeks of the season. There were more groans in the ninth inning when Barajas — who at that point was batting .126 — stepped to the plate with the Pirates down a run, a runner on third and two outs. “It’s not what you want,” Barajas said. “Nobody wants to hear that from your own fans. If they’re booing you, that means you’re struggling. I’d love to be doing better. I’m going to work and try to improve. I was in a situation to put them on my side if I came through at the plate.”
He did. Barajas cracked a two-run, walkoff homer to cap the wild, 5-4 victory. “Hopefully, now (the fans) will give me a little more leeway and I’ll have another couple of weeks to try to get things going in the right direction.”
Manager Clint Hurdle said he began to see a turnaround in Barajas during early work in the cage on Sunday. “That’s what I’m betting on,” Barajas said. “Even though (the homer) is the only hit I had today, I feel like I’m close. The swing is there. Now it’s just a matter of swinging at balls in the strike zone. I kind of went out of the strike zone in my first three at-bats. Once I get a little more patient … I think I’ll be OK.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked this afternoon if he had any reaction to Cole Hamels’ five-game suspension for intentionally throwing at Nats uber-hyped rookie Bryce Harper. Hurdle paused for a moment, shrugged and smiled. “Boys will be boys,” he said.
Like Harper, Hurdle is a former top draft pick whose major league debut was eagerly anticipated. At age 20, Hurdle was touted as a phenom on the cover of Sports Illustrated. At 19, Harper is the youngest guy in the majors this season. But that, Hurdle said, is where the similarities end. “You’re talking about 1978 and 2012,” Hurdle said. “The attention now is so much more dynamic, the opportunities, the wants and asks are so much more dynamic. (Two weeks ago) I encouraged (Harper) to just go out and play and that’s what he’s doing. As an industry, we facilitate those challenges much better from an organizational standpoint than might have been back then. I remember, I kept answering questions (as a rookie). Fortunately, I had a person who cared about me enough who said, ‘You sound like you know something about everything.’ I said, what do you mean? He said, ‘You answer every question.’ I said I was just trying to be polite. He said, ‘Yeah, but it comes across like you know everything.’ I said, that’s a very good point. I was trying to answer everything, but I wasn’t always paying attention to the question being asked and I’d get away from the game. I think he’s had much more help and instruction. He’s a smart kid, got a lot of talent, got a good group of men who support him over in that clubhouse.”
Don’t be surprised if A.J. Burnett follows up his nightmare outing last week in St. Louis with a dazzler tonight at PNC Park. Burnett has gone 67-41 with a 3.64 ERA when pitching in his home ballpark. He is 55-72 with a 4.63 ERA on the road. In four career starts at PNC Park, the righty is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.
Here’s a good Burnett-related note, courtesy of the NY Times: “When Jered Weaver threw a no-hitter, it was not the most unusual pitching line in the majors that day. In the last 30 years, 55 pitchers have thrown a no-hitter. But only give in that stretch have done what A.J. Burnett did last Wednesday in St. Louis. Burnett allowed 12 hits and 12 earned runs. The only others to do that in the last 30 seasons are Mike Oquist, Jose Lima, Jason Marquis (twice, incredibly) and Randy Wolf. All of those pitchers, at least, needed five innings or more to do it. Burnett reached those total in just 2 2-3 innings, which puts him in rare company. According to Baseball-reference.com, Burnett became the first pitcher since the Boston Braves’ Hugh Canavan to allow at least 12 hits and 12 earned runs in fewer than three innings. Canavan did it in 1918. He won no games in his career and never pitched again after that season. Burnett, of course, is a bit more accomplished. He has 122 career victories — including, yes, a no-hitter.”
»»» Chase d’Arnaud (concussion) was actitaved off the DL today @ Triple-A Indy.
»»» The Pirates have won the first game of a series just once so far this season. They are 3-5-1 in series this year.
Game 29: Nationals @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET
Nationals (18-10): 1. Ian Desmond ss, 2. Bryce Harper rf, 3. Ryan Zimmerman 3b, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Danny Espinosa 2b, 6. Rick Ankiel cf, 7. Wilson Ramos c, 8. Roger Bernadina lf, 9. Edwin Jackson rhp (1-1, 3.69)
Pirates (12-16): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Casey McGehee 1b, 6. Garrett Jones 1b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Rod Barjas c, 9. A.J. Burnett rhp (1-2, 8.04)
Pedro Alvarez is batting cleanup tonight against the Reds. Get used to it.
“This isn’t going to be a day-to-day thing,” manager Clint Hurdle said this afternoon. “This is going to be something where we put a foot down and make a commitment to it. We’ll see where it takes us and where it takes him.”
Today will be just the 12th time in the majors that Alvarez hits fourth, but it’s where everyone always figured he’d end up. The fact that he’s riding a seven-game hitting streak and has clubbed seven homers made this the right time to make it happen. “When I first took this job, I envisioned a day when we’d have him at cleanup,” Hurdle said. “You try to look for the right spot, the right time. He’s put down some traction the past two weeks, moving up from seventh to sixth to fifth. I’m optimistic about it. I talked to him, and here we go.”
»»» RHP James McDonald has a 2.08 in two starts at PNC Park this year. In 27 career games on the North Shore, he’s 9-3 with a 3.06 ERA.
Game 27: Reds @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET
Reds (13-12): 1. Zach Cozart ss, 2. Drew Stubbs cf, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Brandon Phillips 2b, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Scott Rolen 3b, 7. Ryan Ludwick lf, 8. Devin Mesoraco c, 9. Mike Leake rhp (0-3, 6.65)
Pirates (11-15): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Casey McGehee 1b, 6. Garrett Jones 1b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Rod Barjas c, 9. James McDonald rhp (1-1, 2.97)
ST. LOUIS – The Pirates are in the process of filing a formal complaint with MLB regarding the inconsistent strike zone of umpire Angel Campos in Wednesday’s game. A ball call on a low pitch to Carlos Beltran upset catcher Rod Barajas and manager ClintHurdle, who both were ejected. It was just the third overall ejection (and the second for arguing balls and strikes) for Barajas, a 13-year veteran. The formal complaint cannot change anything about the game, but it could be used in future evaluations of Campos’ job performance. Conversely, Hurdle cautioned, a club that consistently files complaints about umpires could be viewed as being too whiny by folks in the MLB office.
»»» A.J. Burnett isn’t going to dwell on the 12-run beatdown he suffered last night. “I stunk. There’s nothing more I can say,” Burnett said. “You move forward. I know what happened. It’s just a matter of getting into the bullpen (Friday) and getting my pitches going back downhill, where they belong, and taking the ball again in five days.”
In his April 21 season debut, Burnett handcuffed the Cardinals for seven innings. The righty allowed three hits, zero runs and got seven strikeouts. Last night’s line: 2.2 innings, 12 hits, 12 runs, one walk, two strikeouts. “I didn’t make any adjustments,” Burnett said. “I was up the whole game. They made adjustments early from my previous start against them. Good teams will do that. I couldn’t get anything down. No matter where you pitch or who you pitch against, if it’s up, it’s going to get hammered. I was yanking curveballs and hitting guys in the feet. Nothing had downward plane.”
»»» St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz offered this gem in today’s paper: “The final score was 12-3, running the Cardinals’ two-game total to 22 runs in their two victories over the Pirates, who may summon James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense to provide protection in today’s series finale.” Miklasz wasn’t just poking fun. His point was that even without the Pujols guy, the Cards have a fearsome offense. To wit, they have outscored opponents 60-19 in the first three innings of games this season. “That isn’t baseball,” Miklasz wrote, “That’s a mugging of a defenseless starting pitcher.”
»»» Looking for a bright side? The bullpen scattered five hits over 5.1 scoreless innings. That lowered the pen’s ERA to 2.83. Only two NL clubs, the Padres (2.56) and Reds (2.69), have lower ERAs by their relievers. Juan Cruz, who tossed a scoreless eighth inning last night, has not allowed a run in 9.1 innings. That’s the longest shutout stretch by a Pirates reliever this season.
»»» Brad Lincoln, who tossed 2.1 innings last night, is the only Pirates reliever who is unavailable for this afternoon’s game.
Game 25: Pirates @ Cardinals, 1:45 p.m. ET
Pirates (10-13): 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Alex Presley lf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, . Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6, Garrett Jones 1b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Erik Bedard lhp (1-4, 2.48)
Cardinals (16-8): 1. Rafael Furcal ss, 2. Jon Jay cf, 3. Matt Holliday lf, 4. David Freese 3b, 5. Allen Craig 1b, 6. Shane Robinson rf, 7. Tyler Greene 2b, 8. Tony Cruz c, 9. Jake Westbrook rhp (3-1, 1.30)
ST. LOUIS – The Pirates will let MLB know their side of the story – and their unhappiness with umpire Angel Campos – after tonight’s ejections of manager Clint Hurdle and catcher Rod Barajas.
With the Pirates trailing 5-1 in the second inning, RHP A.J. Burnett faced Carlos Beltran with two runners on and none out. An 0-2 pitch appeared to catch the bottom of the strike zone, but Campos called it a ball. That set off Barajas, who took a similar pitch for a called strike in the top of the inning. “If our guy throws the ball in the same spot. you expect a strike to be called,” Barajas said. “The pitch I got that I thought was down, he called a strike. The pitch that A.J. threw, I felt it was a strike and he called it a ball. It was a big spot in the game. We were trying to get back on track. To lose out on that (call), it makes it hard and frustrating for me.”
When Barajas griped out loud, Campos tossed him. Barajas yelled for a few more moments, then stomped to the dugout. Hurdle went out and also argued with Campos. He, too, was ejected. “I lost my cool,” Barajas admitted. “It doesn’t happen hardly ever with me. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve been thrown out of a game for that reason. It’s unfortunate. I don’t want to put the team in that situation. It’s not what anybody wanted.”
When play resumed, Beltran got ahead in the count, 3-2, then lined an RBI single to right. “I thought it was a strike,” Burnett said. “It could be a strike tomorrow, you never know. I had more things on my mind than that one pitch. I thought it was a good pitch, but I’ve got to move on.”
In the fourth inning, Jose Tabata was called out on a foul tip strikeout, even though it appeared he never made contact. At that point, Hurdle was watching on the clubhouse TV. “I saw what everyone else saw,” Hurdle said. “The ball missed his bat by five inches.”
Tuesday night, Campos was the first base umpire. In the first inning, he made a controversial call by ruling Garrett Jones dropped a throw from second baseman Neil Walker. Replays indicated Jones caught the ball and let it slip while he was transferring it out of his glove.
“We’ve had disagreements for two days out there,” Hurdle said. “We had some disagreements early (tonight) behind the plate. Rod was trying to protect his pitcher and making sure we got a fair shake. The conversation went to a place where it didn’t need to go. Angel disagreed with (Barajas’) conduct and I disagreed with Angel’s, and Rod and I got tot watch the rest of the game. We had a bad night. There were parts of the game that Angel struggled with as well. It happens. But we’ve got opportunities to form an opinion, we’ll tag some things and get them out. Everybody has a bad night every now and then.”
ST. LOUIS — Tonight will be the first time anyone but Andrew McCutchen has batted in the 3 hole. With Cutch getting the night off to rest, Jose Tabata has earned the right to fill Cutch’s spot by hitting at a .367 clip during a seven-game hitting streak. Since April 20, Tabata is batting .351, which is the third-best average in the majors among right fielders.
»»» Once he got past the first batter of the game, Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn dominated the Pirates on April 20. Alex Presley hit an inside-the-park homer, then Lynn settled in and tossed seven strong innings. He gave up four hits and struck out four. “He competes very well,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s got good late life to his fastball and the slider can be a swing-and-miss pitch. That was the reason he was able to come up and help them in the bullpen initially. Now, he’s making pitches, pounding the zone, hitting spots and keeping the ball down. He’s been a very nice addition for them in the absence of (Chris) Carpenter.”
»»» Pirates starters own a combined a 2.95 ERA and have been charged with two earned runs or fewer in 17 of the first 23 games. The only teams in the National League with a better ERA for their starters are the Nationals (1.89), Cardinals (2.69), Phillies (2.78) and Dodgers (2.86).
»»» The Triple-A Indianapolis home game at 11:05 a.m. Monday against Lehigh Valley will be televised by MLB Network. The network also will carry the Triple-A all-star game at 7 p.m. July 25.
»»» The Cardinals will retire Tony LaRussa’s uniform No. 10 on May 11. He ranks third in MLB history in managerial wins (2,728). His will be the 12th uni number retired by the Cards. Two years ago, they retired Whitey Herzog’s No. 24.
Game 24: Pirates @ Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET
Pirates (10-13): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Nate McLouth cf, 3. Jose Tabata rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6, Garrett Jones 1b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Rod Barajas c, 9. A.J. Burnett rhp (1-1, 1.38)
Cardinals (15-8): 1. Rafael Furcal ss, 2. Jon Jay cf, 3. Matt Holliday lf, 4. Carlos Beltran rf, 5. David Freese 3b, 6. Yadier Molina c, 7. Matt Carpenter 1b, 8. Daniel Descalso 2b, 9. Lance Lynn rhp (4-0, 1.33)
ST. LOUIS — RHP Brad Lincoln has been throwing the ball well enough that he might move into more of a late-inning role in the bullpen. “Lincoln’s stuff is playing up real big,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s bringing it. I’m not so sure Lincoln’s a guy we want to keep in long relief for a long time. We might be able to use him in leverage situations.”
The arrival of RHP Jared Hughes today gives the Pirates another reliever who can go multiple innings. And with Hurdle trying to stick to a two-day “rotation” in the pen, Lincoln could come in handy late in a game on days when, say, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli or Chris Resop are not available.
»»» Hughes was recalled from Triple-A Indy to replace RHP Evan Meek, and is in uniform today. Meek was demoted after the game last night in Atlanta. Opponents were batting .275 against Meek and he was scored upon in two of his past three outings. Friday, he tossed a season-high 1 2/3 innings, allowed all three inherited runners to score and also was charged with a run. Sunday, he threw a scoreless inning and notched one strikeout. Hurdle said Meek is “close” to regaining his form, but needed regular work at Indy to get there. “This is the best opportunity to get him that work,” Hurdle said.
This is Hughes’ third stint with the Pirates this year. He was on the Opening Day roster, was optioned to Indy on April 21, recalled four days later as the “26th man” in a doubleheader against the Rockies and was sent back down immediately after the second game that day. Hughes was in Norfolk, Va., and had just finished dinner last night when he was told he would rejoin the Pirates. “I’m pumped up and ready to go,” he said. During his time in Indy, Hughes continued to work on his sinker, trying to throw it down in the zone. “As far low as that zone goes, that’s where I want to throw it,” Hughes said. “Sometimes, even below that.”
»»» Pedro Alvarez has nine extra-base hits in his first 18 games this season. Last year, he finished with 14 XBH in 74 games. Yesterday, Alvarez homered off Mike Minor, his former teammate at Vanderbilt. “Mike’s a great pitcher and competitor,” Alvarez said. “He’s as tough a pitcher as there is out there. We capitalized on some of his mistakes.”
»»» James McDonald enjoyed a big cushion of run support last night. “You feel a little more relaxed, but you’ve still got to be on your toes,” McDonald said. “You’ve got to execute your pitches because the tables can turn quick. I try to imagine it’s 0-0 every inning I’m out there.”
»»» The Pirates play nine of their next 12 games against NL Central foes.
Game 23: Pirates @ Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET
Pirates (10-12): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Jose Tabata rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Rod Barajas c, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (1-1, 2.65)
Cardinals (14-8): 1. Rafael Furcal ss, Jon Jay cf, 3. Matt Holliday lf, 4. Carlos Beltran rf, 5. David Freese 3b, 6. Yadier Molina c, 7. Allen Craig 1b, 8. Skip Schumaker 2b, 9. Adam Wainwright rhp (0-3, 7.32)