Burnett working through recent slump

Hurdle not sure if veteran righty will remain in rotation

Burnett working through recent slump

CINCINNATI -- In an awkwardly timed media conference, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was cornered into saying some awkward things. Huntington was discussing via phone the acquisition of reliever Joakim Soria in the early going of the Bucs' game with the Reds, and he was asked about also fortifying the starting rotation in the hours remaining before today's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"I don't see anything available out there that would be an upgrade over what we now have, at the price it is being offered," Huntington said.

Of course, at the time, the Pirates trailed only 3-1. When it was over, the guy who had started the 15-5 loss looked anything but irreplaceable.

Huntington couldn't take back the words any more than A.J. Burnett could take back the eight runs he allowed in 4 1/3 innings. The first-half wonder's post-break toll rose to 19 runs in three starts. It's too late in the game for Huntington to go shopping for a starter -- the price doesn't drop when desperation is sensed. But Burnett may have earned at least a temporary layoff.

Manager Clint Hurdle, who had raised the possible benefit of that move even before the game, was not ready to further consider it soon afterward.

"You're getting ahead of me," Hurdle said. "After a game, I like to give myself 24 hours, think things through. We'll talk about some things tomorrow."

One of the things that will come up for discussion is possible reasons for Burnett's better stuff later in Thursday's stint. He started off unable to push his fastball out of the 80s and with little bend on the few breaking balls he threw, and "his velocity picked up and the spin came back," noted Hurdle.

Does Burnett have to alter his warmup routine to get to max stuff earlier? Throw more between starts to stay sharp, or less to give the 38-year-old arm recovery time?

"It's what I had," Burnett said of the reduced stuff early in the game. "I'm 38. It's sad, I know. I was able to find it later in the game, I was off early, but that's a reflection of preparation between starts. I have to get back to where I need to be for my next start, and I look forward to it."

Is it, however, farther than five days away? In a pregame discussion of roles that will be filled by staff newcomer Joe Blanton, Hurdle brought up his ability to spot start.

"We're gonna watch him," Hurdle had said, referring to Burnett. "It's always an option, to plug a guy in there to give you an extra day. Or just to pass on a guy once around."

Of his recent track record, Burnett said, "I don't think it's a rough patch. I just had a bad day. The way I look at it, I got work to do, and next time it will be better."

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 and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.