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Colin Dunlap: Burnett Deserved Much Better

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — What a waste.

The Pirates trotted right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett out to the mound on Monday against the Cubs, the 36-year-old making his first Opening Day start in a career that began in 1999.

Did Burnett throw a masterpiece? No.

But, did he deserve much more than what the Pirates’ offense provided him?

Absolutely. No question about it.

When Burnett exited after pitching five 2/3 innings — striking out 10 in that span — and allowing three earned runs, he most certainly should have been placed in a better situation to potentially earn a victory.

The Pirates’ offense was dreadful, however, with second baseman Neil Walker’s soft line drive in the second inning the lone hit — and only ball hit out of the infield — during the time Burnett was on the mound for the Pirates in what would eventually become a 3-1 loss.

Burnett’s 10 strikeouts tied an Opening Day club record also accomplished by John Candelaria in 1983 and Bob Veale in 1965.

Even as Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija was dazzling, pitching eight innings and giving up just two hits as he struck out nine, one has to wonder if the lack of Pirates’ offensive punch on Opening Day is a brief glimpse of what’s to come this season.

“It’s the big leagues,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after the loss. “It’s a tough draw Opening Day.”

Is it though? Is Samardzija truly a “tough draw” in the opener?

Start looking around the league at the men who took the mound on Monday and one can make a very strong case that Samardzija was one of the weakest Opening Day starters to be handed the baseball — and he still had no problem baffling the Pirates’ lineup.

This was Jeff Samardzija; not C.C. Sabathia, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain or someone of the sort. Wasn’t Justin Verlander or Jon Lester, either.

All those aforementioned men pitched on Monday.

But this was Samardzija, who was 9-13 all of last season and was 2-5 at the tail end of last season.

Again, this was no Cy Young.

But the Pirates made Samardzija look like a top-end starter on a top end team.

In front of 39,078 at PNC Park, the top three hitters in the Pirates’ lineup went 1 for 10 with three strikeouts. Eight hitters who weren’t the pitcher struck out for the Pirates.

Last season, the Pirates were 25th out of 30 Major League Baseball teams with a .243 team average, a full .031 points lower than the Angels, who led baseball.

After watching the offensive deficiency against Samardzija — granted it was just one day — what gives anyone any indication this version of the Pirates will do anything to greatly improve on that number?

The requisite pomp, coupled with circumstance, accompanied this Opening Day.

Andrew McCutchen was handed a bunch of hardware he won last season before this game.

A joint Military Color Guard presented the colors just prior to Pittsburgh.

Symphony Orchestra violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley performing The National Anthem.

Hurdle insisted before the game that this contest, the first of 162, was something to truly relish.

“Embrace the day,” Hurdle said. “It’s Opening Day. It’s a unique time, it’s a special time.

“You don’t have Opening Day to this degree in the NBA. You don’t have it in the NHL unless you’ve won the [Stanley] Cup. You don’t have it in the NFL. It’s a big deal. And if you don’t believe so, I’m watching people tailgate at 8 o’clock when I’m coming in … this is good stuff. It’s Americana. It’s handed down generation to generation.”

Problematic for the Pirates, however, so too has been the losing.

No one needs reminded about the streak that’s now reached two decades since this organization has done so much as won more games than it has lost in a season.

On Monday, on a mound in the middle of PNC Park, Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija put a damper on this Opening Day when the Pirates’ offense look baffled and confounded from front to back, even as their own starter, A.J. Burnett pitched in a manner where he deserved at least some offense thrust.

Burnett was never given such a chance.

“You have to tip your cap to [Samardzija] to a certain degree,” said Walker, who finished one for 4. “As hard as that is.”

Do you? Do you have to tip your cap to him?

Or, conversely, can you look at the Pirates’ lineup and be of the understanding that the offense needs to improve drastically?

Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com

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