Cumberland Times-News

Mike Mathews - Sports

January 25, 2009

Good start a must for Pirates, LaRoches


Last year’s staff had a 5.08 ERA, the worst in the NL. The starters combined for a league-low 33 wins. Paul Maholm led the team in wins, with nine.

The clock is ticking on Zach Duke (5-14, 4.82 last year), Tom Gorzelanny (6-9, 6.66), Phil Dumatrait (3-4, 5.26) and even Ian Snell (7-12, 5.42).

Sean Burnett led the Eastern League in wins (14-6, 3.21) with the Altoona Curve in 2003. After a 5-5 season as a starter with the Bucs in 2004, he missed the 2005 season with an injury, and finally worked his way back to Pittsburgh last year, going 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA in 58 relief appearances. In 56 2/3 innings, he allowed 57 hits and struck out 42.

“Personally, I’d rather start but I don’t even think it’s in question because we’ve got too many good arms,’’ he said. “Right now I like the bullpen and it’s my job. I’m looking forward to going back to the bullpen.”

Burnett said last year he, like LaRoche, may have tried to do too much, too soon.

“I finally had a healthy year but I kind of struggled a little bit, trying to do too much, when I first was called up.”

It was the first full season in the bullpen for Burnett, who began the year at Triple-A Indianapolis and was called up in May. A first-round draft pick in 2000, he had a 54-41 record and 3.34 career ERA in the minors.

“Every team that wins has pitching. The starter’s got to get you into the sixth or seventh inning a majority of the time. The last couple of years we haven’t done that,’’ he said. “Last year we put offense together last year before the trades. We were just giving up too many runs.”

Manager John Russell agreed.

“Pitching will take you a long way. It wins championships, and that’s one of our goals,’’ he said. “We feel like we have a good nucleus of young arms. I think we took a step backwards last year, which was unfortunate, but I look for really good leaps this year.”

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Contact Mike Mathews at

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