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Dunlap: A.J. Burnett Winning City Over Again

A.J. Burnett lost Monday night.

You can read it right there in the box score, in the game log, in the chronicle of that rain-fragmented game played against the Milwaukee Brewers.

He has, however, won over these Pittsburgh Pirates for a second time.

He's won over this city for a second time.

He's won over a fanbase for --- you guessed it --- a second time.

Make no mistake, as the Pirates have now drifted from May into June, Burnett's performance can't be looked at as some sort of mirage or illusion anymore.

This seems like, irrefutably, the real deal.

Heading into his next start --- scheduled to be this weekend against the Philadelphia Phillies --- Burnett will carry a 6-2 record with a 2.11 ERA in 12 starts that have spanned 76.2 innings. Opponents are hitting .240 against him and he's struck out 70 hitters against 23 walks.

Perhaps he's won everyone over (again) because he's doing this on a one-year contract at 38-years-old.

Perhaps he's won everyone over again because he's been a large reason why the Pirates have remained in the thick of the National League Central race with a Cardinals team that is dealing with injury-after-injury and a mighty young Cubs squad.

But for manager Clint Hurdle, Burnett has won this club --- this city and this fanbase --- over again because the skipper understood there was a good chance this was bound to happen. Taking a chance on Burnett (again) wasn't that much of a chance at all, even after that abysmal season in Philadelphia last year.

Why? After this much of a sample size in 2015, Hurdle is fervent about stating that last year's poor performance by Burnett for the Phillies had everything to do with injury.

Not a little, not some --- but just about everything.

You see, Burnett accrued his normal quantity of innings (pitching 213 last season) but was tormented by a 4.59 ERA and a skyrocketing walk total that ended up at 96. His record, as he pitched through a sports hernia, ended up at 8-18. It signified the most losses Burnett had sustained in any season in a career that dates back to 1999.

Hurdle is ready to now --- after the dozen Burnett starts --- blame just about all of the inadequacies of 2014 for Burnett on the injury.

"I believe, my opinion, that he pitched through injury; that was real, it was legit," Hurdle said. "Only he can tell you if it complicated his delivery and we both know him well enough that what he will say is that, 'I pitched [and was fine],'"

It was painfully obvious, however, that Burnett wasn't fine in that Phillies uniform.

He was nothing like the 2015 version we are seeing right now; a version that he still insist will be the last one anyone sees of him as he's still on schedule to retire when the Pirates' season comes to a close.

But back to last year for a moment …

"He took the ball over 30 times, he pitched his 200 innings and he didn't back away from anything," Hurdle said. "I think [2014] was probably a challenging year in a couple different ways, besides health. That being said, I think he was able to get a good frame of mind early this off-season, know where he was going, come someplace he felt comfort and have conviction … so I just think this year worked out to put him in a good place to come in and compete and pitch effectively."

And Burnett has.

In doing so, he's won Pittsburgh over. Again.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 "The Fan." You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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