Before serving as A.J. Burnett's manager, Clint Hurdle paid close attention to Burnett for one season. That was 2010, when as the Texas Rangers hitting coach Hurdle studied Burnett for ways to beat him.
Hurdle took over the Pirates as manager in 2011 and eventually Burnett crossed his radar again.
"I didn't pay a lot of attention in [2011] other than once I heard we had some interest, I looked at some video," Hurdle said.
The Pirates eventually acquired Burnett for the final two years of his five-year contract. He started this season in impressive fashion, establishing himself as one of the best starters in the National League.
Burnett's 66 strikeouts led the NL entering Thursday's games and fell six short of MLB leader Yu Darvish. Burnett's 49 innings pitched ranked sixth in the NL and put him among the league's aces: Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Zimmermann, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright and newcomer Matt Harvey were the five pitchers in front of him.
Burnett did not attain the status he enjoys in the Pirates clubhouse in his past two stops in the majors. He shared a rotation with Roy Halladay in Toronto. In New York, he shared a clubhouse with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
"Our guys look at him differently than the guys in the other clubhouse," Hurdle said. "He was another guy in New York. He's not another guy in our clubhouse. He's the guy. Sometimes I think that might freak a guy out. It caught him off guard, but he said, 'OK, this could be good.' "
Burnett has not allowed more than two runs in any of his past five starts. He has pitched seven innings in three of them, including the past two. He highly values going deep into his outings.