LOOKING FOR pitching depth a week before the major league season began, the Pittsburgh Pirates nabbed former Phillie Vance Worley off the scrap heap. A year after taking the mound as Minnesota's Opening Day starter, Worley had been designated for assignment by the Twins.
Worley jumped into the Pirates' rotation in June. He is 7-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts.
Worley is being paid $527,500 for the 2014 season.
Less than 6 weeks before the Pirates added Worley, they lost out on their bid to bring A.J. Burnett back for a third season with the team. Burnett signed with the Phillies a day before the team held its first official workout in Clearwater, Fla.
When the season comes to an end 2 weeks from Sunday, Burnett will have earned a minimum of $17.75 million from that deal. When he takes the mound next week in San Diego, Burnett will see his player option for next year jump to $12.75 million.
It's safe to say the Pirates made the better decision this spring.
Burnett allowed three consecutive hits to begin the sixth inning and all three baserunners came around to score as his former team rolled to a 4-1 win over the Phillies.
"Balls over the plate," Burnett said. "I had positions where I could put guys away and I didn't put them away tonight. I mean, yeah, that's basically the story: 0-2 hits and balls over the plate late in the game. Not having consistency throughout the whole game."
The loss was the 16th of the season for Burnett, a career high. Burnett (8-16) is the first Phillies pitcher to lose 16 games since Mark Leiter lost 17 in 1997.
Burnett allowed four runs on six hits in six innings. He has allowed four or more runs in seven of 11 starts since the All-Star break.
Burnett's 4.34 ERA this season ranks 77th out of 92 qualifying major league pitchers.
"He's had some good outings the second half of the season," Sandberg said of Burnett, who has a 5.37 ERA since the break. "He goes out and competes. I felt he was going well tonight, but feel like he hit a wall . . . He's a durable guy and once again, he had a pretty good curveball tonight. I'm a little bit surprised they put those hits together."
Last night, Burnett was outpitched by Francisco Liriano, the second in a series of veteran pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Burnett and Worley, who have gotten their careers back on track with the Pirates. Liriano struck out 12, walked just two and held the Phillies to four singles, and only two that left the infield, in eight shutout innings.
Liriano struck out eight of the final 17 batters he faced.
"That's the best I've seen him in a long time," Burnett said. "When he's got his offspeed where he wants it, changeups and sliders . . . he's dominating when he's like that. I tried to go toe-to-toe with him, but he executed a few more than I did. Quite a few more."
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle inexplicably took Liriano out after eight shutout innings and 106 pitches. As a result, the Phils pushed across a run in the ninth to avoid being shut out for the 14th time this season (and what would have been the ninth time in 75 games at home).
The Phillies have, however, scored two runs or fewer in 52 of their 146 games this season.
Pirates pitchers held the Phillies to a total of 10 hits (nine singles) in back-to-back nights in taking three of the four games in the intrastate series in South Philly.
"Liriano was very effective with his changeup to righthanded and lefthanded hitters," Sandberg said. "We couldn't get anything going off him."
With the roster expanded and the season winding down - the Phillies were play their final 2014 game in 2 weeks from Sunday - Sandberg continued to infuse more young players into his lineup. Freddy Galvis (shortstop) and Cesar Hernandez (second base) started in the middle infield, Darin Ruf in left, and Maikel Franco made his fifth start at third base in the last seven games.
Galvis and Hernandez accounted for two of the Phillies' four hits entering the ninth inning. Ruf was hitless in four at-bats, striking out three times.
Franco was hitless in three at-bats, striking out in his first two. But he continued to show promise at third base, where he ranged to his glove side to make one play and showed off his arm after briefly losing control of the ball on another.
"[He] continues to make some terrific plays at third base, some really good reactions - third one in five games," Sandberg said.