Pirates activate A.J. Burnett from the disabled list

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As planned, the Pirates have activated right-handed starter A.J. Burnett from the 15-day disabled list.

He will start for the Pirates on Sunday afternoon against the Cubs after sitting out for the past three-plus weeks because of a strained right calf muscle.

Burnett has registered a fantastic 3.12 ERA and 1.13 ERA in 14 starts this season, fanning 99 batters and issuing only 35 walks in 89 1/3 innings. The 36-year-old Arkansas native owns an impressive 3.39 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 in 291 2/3 total frames since joining Pittsburgh via a trade from the Yankees before the start of the 2012 campaign.

The Pirates enter play Sunday with one-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central.

Starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani will pinch-hit and pinch-run for the Angels in 2018

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The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.

I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.

Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.

Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.

To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.