There's still no word from A.J. Burnett on whether he will pitch in 2014 or retire, but Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage is moving forward under the expectation that Burnett will call it a career, he said in an appearance on 93-7 The Fan Morning Show in Pittsburgh this morning:
"I'm on the percentage point where he's not going to come back. I've got to prepare my guys with no A.J. I've got to prepare the pitching with no A.J. So that's the route I'm going. If he does come back — hey, all right! But right now, I'm leaning that way, where he's going to retire."
Burnett's decision on whether or not to retire has taken months longer than initially anticipated, but there's yet to be any indication that he would give consideration to pitching for another team. The 37-year-old has stated on multiple occasions that he will only pitch for the Pirates if he decides to play again in 2014, though his hometown Orioles have expressed interest should he decide to change that thinking. The Pirates already have six starters with Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez on board, although Burnett could certainly be worked into the mix.
Searage went on to say that Locke experienced arm fatigue in 2013, leading to his precipitous decline late in the season, and he's hoping Locke can "wipe the slate clean" heading into 2014. He also wants to try not to overload Volquez with tips on how to harness his potential and says he finds it best to "kill them with kindness" when working with such reclamation projects. Searage has had plenty of success in that department, as the Pirates have enjoyed tremendous rebound performances from Burnett, Liriano and Mark Melancon upon arrival in Pittsburgh.