Burnett back, but Bucs won't use 6-man rotation

Hurdle, Pirates haven't announced which starter will move to bullpen

Burnett back, but Bucs won't use 6-man rotation

PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Burnett's return to the mound -- and to the Pirates' rotation -- signals the start of a game of musical chairs for Pittsburgh starting pitchers. And on the other side of Tuesday's doubleheader, someone won't have an empty chair.

Manager Clint Hurdle confirmed Friday that Burnett will "be part of the rotation moving forward." Concurrently, Hurdle said the Bucs are not switching to a six-man rotation.

Odd man out?

The manager wasn't prepared to go there because the affected pitcher had not been told, and also because there is no hurry to streamline things.

"It isn't like anything is imminent right now. We'll need six through the rotation based on the doubleheader," said Hurdle, citing Tuesday's day-night affair with the Cubs.

Jeff Locke, who has struggled with consistency, might appear the most likely to lose his spot. The Pirates have been reluctant in the past to omit him, liking the idea of two left-handed starters, but J.A. Happ's outstanding work has eliminated that factor. Southpaws Francisco Liriano and Happ, and righties Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Burnett could take the Pirates down the stretch.

However, Locke was solid in his most recent start, allowing the Reds four hits and one earned run in five innings on Monday. He is scheduled to take his next turn Saturday against the Brewers, and he will be seeking his second win in eight starts. Locke has gone beyond five innings only four times in his past 11 starts, and he is 2-5 with a 5.50 ERA since the All-Star break.

As for Burnett, Hurdle, while declining to make any projections based on one comeback start, was as encouraged as the pitcher himself by Thursday's effort in the eventual 6-4, 13-inning loss to Milwaukee.

"I loved the fact he used all three of his pitches," Hurdle said. "I liked the angle I saw from the fastball. It was elevated and flat in the first, then he got after it, started shaving the corners of the plate. It was fun to watch the last four innings."

Burnett held the Brewers hitless, without a ball leaving the infield, over those last four after yielding three runs in the opening frame.

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.