By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The Pirates are hoping their pitching can pull them through a pivotal weekend series in Cincinnati, and A.J. Burnett, who has stabilized that group again this season, will have his opportunity. But is this the last hurrah for the popular veteran?

He may or may not get a chance to pitch again when the club makes its first playoff appearance since 1992. Whether that playoff run lasts four weeks or three hours, it seems to be very much up in the air whether or not Burnett will be back with the Bucs in 2014.

“The Pirates will have the money to spend to keep Burnett around. They are projected to spend a little over $74 million in 2013. Plus teams are expected to get a boost next year with the national TV revenue coming in, which could add at least an additional $20 million to each team’s budget,” reports Shanna Rose of iSportsWeb. “In theory that means the Pirates have plenty of room to bring back Burnett.”

Click here to read the full post by Rose.

The more baseball the Bucs can milk out of the 36-year-old, the better. If there is a face of the franchise’s renaissance, National League MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen not withstanding, it is probably Burnett.

He broke the mold of bad free agent signings by the club, refusing to resign himself to the idea that putting on a Pirate uniform means, by definition, you’re supposed to fail. In the past couple seasons, he took the ball every fifth day, in good times and bad, with a high degree of professionalism, and he made himself a mentor to rising stars like Jeff Locke and Gerrit Cole while endearing himself to fans with his spunk.

With such young pitchers in the mix, and with top prospect Jameson Taillon looking to launch his own big-league career in the foreseeable future, the tutelage of Burnett might make an organizational strength even stronger.

Burnett (9-11, 3.39 ERA), who is trying to reach double-digit wins for the ninth year in a row, faces fellow right-hander Homer Bailey (11-11, 3.40 ERA) Friday at Great American Ball Park for the second consecutive weekend.

He got the best of Bailey in a 4-2 win at PNC Park last Saturday, striking out a season-best 12 and scattering four hits over seven innings. He leads the NL with a 9.98 strikeout-per-nine-innings ratio, and he ranks fifth in the league entering the weekend with 203 K’s.

First pitch is set for 7:10, with “Pirates Preview,” hosted by Dan Zangrilli and Kevin Orie, set for 5:50 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, your flagship home for Pirates baseball.


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