ST. LOUIS -- For some perspective, we turn to Clint Hurdle.
“I think we continue to lose the fact of how he pitched in the first half,” said Hurdle, referring to J.A. Happ, after Friday’s game. “We’re not paying any recognition to the fact of the numbers the guy put up in the first half in the American League. And as I said before, we wouldn’t have gotten him, probably, if he’d continued that trend. That’s when trades are made. That’s when you acquire players.”
In that first half with the Mariners, or more specifically the first 11 starts, Happ had a 3.31 ERA. He struck out 49 and walked 14 in 651/3 innings. From that point on he had a 6.65 ERA, until he became a Pirate.
“I felt like as we broke this year I felt real good about kind of where I was at overall,” Happ said. “Over time things change slowly. You maybe form a bad habit or two. So it’s just trying to get back to that kind of pitcher.”
Happ in Pittsburgh: 341/3 innings, 30 hits, six runs, seven walks, 32 strikeouts. That’s good for a 1.57 ERA, and that includes his first start, a four-run, nine-hit outing that lasted 41/3 innings, after which the Pirates told him to take a breather.
“I didn’t want the time off,” he said. “That was their decision. I wanted to pitch. But it was what it was.”
Happ was available out of the bullpen some nights, making it challenging to throw his side sessions and work on his game. Since then:
8/14 at Mets: 51/3 IP 7 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 7 K
8/19 vs. Diamondbacks : 6 IP 2 H 0 R 0 ER 2 BB 3 K
8/24 at Marlins: 6 IP 4 H 0 R 0 ER 1 BB 6 K
8/29 vs. Rockies: 52/3 IP 5 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 2 K
9/4 at Cardinals: 7 IP 3 H 0 R 0 ER 0 BB 8K
Friday night, Happ followed Francisco Cervelli’s glove all around the zone. He put one man in scoring position all night. He elevated his fastball for effect and got swings with it in two-strike counts.
His performance came at a time when the rest of the rotation has struggled. Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole had trouble in August and this week in Milwaukee. Jeff Locke is inconsistent. So is Charlie Morton. A.J. Burnett is close to returning, but not just yet.
Why was Jared Hughes, who is second in MLB in games pitched, pitching in the ninth inning of an eight-run game?
“Trying to keep Jared with some consistency,” Hurdle said. “The best sinker he had was tonight. ... We wanted to try and keep some rhythm with him pitching.”
ST. LOUIS — A.J. Burnett completed a simulated game today at Busch Stadium. He threw six-plus innings and 90-plus pitches, then threw more in the bullpen. He threw fastballs, curveballs and changeups while facing Travis Snider, Michael Morse and Jaff Decker with Chris Stewart catching.
“I feel where I need to be,” said Burnett, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of a flexor strain in his right elbow. “A lot better than I expected to.”
Burnett can return to the roster without a corresponding move because the roster is expanded to 40 players in September. Last month, manager Clint Hurdle indicated that Burnett could be used as a spot-starter to give everyone an extra day of rest. He said today that the rotation will remain the same the next time through.
“I got hot out there [it was a thick 94 degrees in St. Louis] but I wasn't tired,” he said. “Then I went down to the 'pen, threw about 15 more after that. I'm very happy with where I'm at.”
Burnett, 38, is retiring after this season.
“I'm not looking at it as me,” he said. “I'm looking at it as getting back to healthy, as healthy as I can. I came back to help us win. I can't do that on the DL, obviously. The fact that this is my last year, and I want to go out and pitch again before I'm done, I'm trying to throw that aside and not worry about that.”
Burnett will throw a bullpen session Sunday, after which the Pirates will discuss his next step.
“I'm not getting paid to get our guys out, I know that,” he joked. “I need to get on the mound.
“I expect to be throwing soon for the Pirates, because I feel great.”
***The Pirates will not make a change in their rotation, Hurdle said.
***Jeff Locke will have the option to travel to Cincinnati early because of Sunday night’s 7:05 p.m. local time start and Monday’s 1:10 Eastern Time Labor Day start at Great American Ball Park.
“We have sent pitchers ahead all season long on games of that nature, so yes,” Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes they opt not to, but we’ve always afforded them the opportunity. Flights like when we went to New York and landed at 3 o’clock in the morning. The flight we just took last week. We always give the pitcher the option. More often than not they pick up on it.”
Game: Pirates (79-53) at Cardinals (86-47)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Site: Busch Stadium
TV, radio: Root Sports/MLB Network, KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: Eleven million degrees (94 and sunny)
Standings: Pirates in 2nd place NL Central, 61/2 games behind Cardinals; first wild-card spot, four games ahead of Cubs.
ST. LOUIS -- Here are the lineups for tonight’s game.
1. Gregory Polanco (L) RF
2. Josh Harrison 2B
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Jung Ho Kang 3B
5. Starling Marte LF
6. Pedro Alvarez (L) 1B
7. Francisco Cervelli C
8. Jordy Mercer SS
9. J.A. Happ (L) LHP
1. Matt Carpenter (L) 3B
2. Stephen Piscotty LF
3. Jason Heyward (L) RF
4. Jhonny Peralta SS
5. Brandon Moss (L) 1B
6. Yadier Molina C
7. Kolten Wong (L) 2B
8. Peter Bourjos CF
9. Carlos Martinez RHP
ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates announced their postseason ticket information this morning, as well as their 2016 season-ticket pricing.
Pirates season-ticket information can be found here.
The Pirates are currently in second place in the NL Central. They trail the first-place St. Louis Cardinals by 61/2 games and begin a three-game series against the Cardinals here tonight. The Pirates hold the first wild-card spot and lead the Chicago Cubs by four games, meaning if the season ended today the Pirates would play the Cubs in the one-game wild-card playoff at PNC Park.
MILWAUKEE -- Here are the probables for this weekend’s series.
Friday: LHP J.A. Happ (3-1, 1.98) for the Pirates; RHP Carlos Martinez (13-6, 2.91) for the Cardinals.
Saturday: RHP Charlie Morton (8-6, 4.22) for the Pirates; LHP Jaime Garcia (7-4, 2.03) for the Cardinals.
Sunday: RHP Gerrit Cole (15-8, 2.64) for the Pirates; RHP John Lackey (11-8, 2.87) for the Cardinals.
Francisco Liriano and Clint Hurdle both don’t think Liriano’s control problems were systemic. They felt they resulted from not getting A) calls on the corners or B) swings at borderline pitches.
“I don’t know because I feel like I’m just missing the strike zone by a little bit, not way up or way down,” Liriano said.
Liriano had a 4.94 ERA in August and walked 15 batters in 271/3 innings, but said he felt healthy. Hurdle said the velocity -- Liriano hit 95 mph Thursday -- and spin rates on his breaking pitches showed no red flags.
“Sometimes they just have bad months,” Hurdle said.
Jordy Mercer went 2 for 2 with two doubles Thursday night. In eight games since returning from the DL he is hitting .400 (8 for 20).
“The knee’s responding really well,” Mercer said. “My timing feels really good, I feel like I’m in a good spot. The last couple games in triple-A was when I just started feeling really good and I carried it over to here.”
The Pirates trail the Cardinals by 61/2 games and have six more games head-to-head against them.
“I hear a lot, well, you’re chasing the Cardinals, does that frustrate you? Absolutely not,” Hurdle said. “There’s so much positive going on, there’s so much work to be done … everything starts with a thought. If your first thought in the morning when you wake up is that somebody else is frustrating you because they’re playing well, you’re missing the whole point of playing the game. Our focus needs to be on us playing better.”
Game story: Pirates swept in Milwaukee -- again.
Notebook: Cardinals series awaits; McCutchen sits.