Pirates' Burnett mystifies Cardinals' offense

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso throws to first after forcing out at second Pirates baserunner Pedro Alvarez during the fourth inning Saturday in Pittsburgh. (GENE PUSKAR ~ Associated Press)

PITTSBURGH -- The St. Louis Cardinals didn't know they'd be facing A.J. Burnett on Saturday night until four hours before the first pitch.

The coaching staff quickly threw together video of Burnett during spring training and his three rehab starts as he worked his way back from a fractured right orbital bone.

The cram session didn't quite work.

The Cardinals mustered three hits over seven innings against Burnett then couldn't capitalize on a couple of late chances in a 2-0 loss.

"We had a good approach, a good idea what we were going to see," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We had those opportunities to do something and couldn't get it done. We're not going to use the late notice as an excuse for this one."

Burnett, who missed the first three weeks of the year after a ball smacked off his face during a bunting drill in spring training just days after being traded from the Yankees, walked two and struck out seven while dominating baseball's best offensive team.

The Cardinals are off to their best start since 2008 thanks to the National League's best offense. St. Louis came in leading the NL in batting average (.287), home runs (20) and hits (142).

Burnett and five relievers limited the Cardinals to five hits, all singles.

"I think Pittsburgh got [Burnett] for the reason he showed tonight," St. Louis third baseman David Freese said. "He was spot-on."

Joel Hanrahan worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the ninth for his second save of the season.

St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook (2-1) continued his strong spring. He gave up only a pair of RBI singles to Pedro Alvarez, walked two and struck out six. His ERA moved from 0.64 to 1.31.

"I felt like I made some decent pitches," Westbrook said. "I think they hit a couple balls hard. I still feel good about the way I performed."

Westbrook was solid, but Burnett was spectacular. Burnett threw 53 of his 76 pitches for strikes and looked like the No. 1 starter the Pirates envisioned when they traded for him in February.

Not a bad debut for a player who woke up planning to pitch at Class AA Altoona for one last rehab start but was activated off the 15-day disabled list in the afternoon when the Pirates scratched starter Kevin Correia because of pain in his side.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle believed a return to the big leagues would rejuvenate the staff ace even though Burnett struggled during three minor league starts

The 35-year-old looked a little hyped up in his first start in the National League since he pitched for the Marlins in 2005. He walked Rafael Furcal on four pitches, gave up a single to Matt Carpenter and walked Matt Holliday to load the bases with no outs.

Just as the boos started, perhaps reminding him of his three tumultuous seasons in New York, Burnett settled down. He struck out Carlos Beltran and Freese then got Yadier Molina to line out to shortstop Clint Barmes to end the threat.

Burnett jumped into the air and pumped his first when Barmes came down with the ball. His jitters out of the way, Burnett mowed down the Cardinals.

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