PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates starters who are here are pitching well, and those who are not are getting well.Charlie Morton is set to make possibly his one-and-only rehab start Monday night and A.J. Burnett, who will make another rehab start with Bradenton on Wednesday, could be pitching for the Bucs "before the end of the month," according to Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington. "We want to keep him in the warm weather and get him to 100 pitches," Huntington said of Burnett, who made 68 of them in an extended rehab start for the Marauders on Friday. Burnett was only scheduled to throw four innings in that game against the St. Lucie Mets, but he returned to the mound in the fifth for two more outs because of a low pitch count. "It was great that he was able to get out there for one more [inning]. Next time, he'll stretch out a little more, and we'll reassess where he is," Huntington said. Burnett is catching up with the rest of the staff after having his Spring Training delayed by facial surgery on March 2. Her suffered a fractured right-eye orbital bone during a bunting competition on Feb. 29 -- 10 days after completion of his trade acquisition from the Yankees. Morton is on track to beat Burnett back. He will start for Triple-A Indianapolis in Columbus, the last prelude to merging with the rotation to start this weekend in San Francisco.
Cruz off to hot start in Pirates' bullpen
PITTSBURGH -- Clint Hurdle wants a pitcher who keeps cool when the heat is on. Enter Juan Cruz, the veteran right-handed reliever who has already had an impact on the Bucs.Cruz is the only pitcher to have appeared in each of the first two games, and he picked up the first victory as reward for his clutch deliveries in the top of the 10th of Saturday night's walk-off thriller vs. the Phillies. He recovered from consecutive two-out singles to strike out Phillies' cleanup hitter Hunter Pence and preserve a tie. "He's been around. He doesn't get rattled. He's confident all the time," said catcher Rod Barajas, whose leadoff double in the bottom of the 10th sparked the rally that led to Alex Presley's RBI infield single for the 2-1 win. "He's always telling me, 'I'll throw any pitch, any time. You put your fingers down, I'll throw it.' "That's what makes him so tough. He proved it in Spring Training, and he's proving it now." Cruz's two shutout innings have continued the convincing trend that earned him a job as a non-roster invitee to camp. In his team-high 10 spring appearances, the easy-going and well-traveled -- the Pirates are his seventh big league team -- 33-year-old held opponents to a .176 average. He had more strikeouts (seven) than hits allowed (six).
Sidelined Leroux eyes midseason return
PITTSBURGH -- Chris Leroux, knocked out by a rare injury, is headed back to Florida to continue his slow rehab toward a possible midseason return.The right-hander incurred a strained pectoral muscle pitching in Tuesday's final exhibition, and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday. "They [team trainers] said they'd never seen this injury," said Leroux, who got a clear look at it himself in his MRI. "It was plain as day, a white strip in the chest area. I already feel a lot better than I did. The first couple of days, I could barely sleep; when I rolled over, it felt like I was getting stabbed in the chest." Leroux has been ordered to not even throw for four to six weeks. He will occasionally rejoin the Bucs when they are home to get his therapy and do his rehab here. "I have to be careful. If I try to return too early, it could be the whole season. It's like a hamstring [injury, easily aggravated]," he said.
Jeff Karstens -- the hitter, of all things -- may have prevented the Phillies from joining Cleveland in making Major League history. Were it not for Karstens' 11-pitch at-bat in the third inning of Saturday night's game, Cliff Lee may have been able to go beyond six innings. He'd allowed two hits, the same number Roy Halladay had allowed in eight innings in the opener.The Phillies could have become the second team in the live-ball era (post-1920) to have its first two starters go 7-plus and allow two hits or less. Hours earlier, the Indians became the first -- with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, against Toronto. The Bucs improved to 24-14 vs. the Phillies at home in PNC Park's 13-year history. Jared Hughes and Evan Meek, the only relievers who hadn't yet appeared, both made their season debuts. Meek pitched a perfect eighth, including a strikeout of Hunter Pence, after Hughes had allowed two unearned runs in the seventh.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.