A.J. Burnett pitches Pirates past Reds to take lead in NL Wild Card

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Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, who earlier today told the media he is still considering retiring after the 2013 season, turned in a gem against the division and Wild Card rival Reds. The Reds went ahead early on a Ryan Ludwick RBI single in the first inning and a Zack Cozart solo home run in the second. Pirates catcher Russell Martin launched a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom half of the second to knot the game at two apiece. In the sixth, the Pirates scored twice on a Marlon Byrd sacrifice fly and an opposite-field RBI single by Pedro Alvarez against lefty reliever Zach Duke.

Burnett settled down after the first two innings, holding the Reds scoreless in five consecutive innings. After completing the seventh, he had allowed just the two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out twelve. The outing marks Burnett’s season-high in strikeouts and the most he has logged in a game since August 27 against the Rangers when he was with the Yankees.

Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson teamed up for a scoreless eighth inning, with Wilson inducing a crucial inning-ending double play against Joey Votto. Jason Grilli made his first ninth-inning appearance since July 22, before he landed on the disabled list with a strained right flexor tendon. Ludwick led off with a single, but he was erased when Jay Bruce bounced into a 4-6-3 double play. Grilli got Cozart grounded out to shortstop to end the game, his 31st save of the season and his first July 21.

With the Cardinals defeating the Brewers, the Pirates remain two games back in the NL Central while the Reds drop to three games out. In the NL Wild Card, the Pirates take a one-game lead over the Reds for the first NL Wild Card slot. Though both teams are a sustained Nationals hot streak away from qualifying for both spots, the winner of the first Wild Card slot gets home field advantage in the one-game playoff.

Nick Williams has been trying to sell Jake Arrieta on the Phillies

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CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury reports that Phillies outfielder Nick Williams has been working out daily with free agent starter Jake Arrieta in Austin. The right-hander, who won the 2015 National League Cy Young Award, still remains teamless with spring training less than a month away. Williams has been trying to sell Arrieta on joining the Phillies.

Williams said of Arrieta, “He loves it here [Austin]. He has told me he likes working with young guys. I’m like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I’m not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I’m not really in his position.”

On GM Matt Klentak’s hunt for pitching help, new manager Gabe Kapler said, “The pursuit is very real. I have a lot of trust that we’ll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we’re better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Arrieta, who turns 32 years old in March, went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA and a 163/55 K/BB ratio in 168 1/3 innings last season with the Cubs. The Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers have been linked to Arrieta this month.

Presently, the Phillies’ starting rotation figures to include Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez along with some combination of Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Mark Leiter, and Jake Thompson. Arrieta would certainly amount to a big upgrade in the starting rotation and could make the Phillies a more attractive landing spot for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, who become free agents after the 2018 campaign. The Phillies are expected to be in the mix for either or both players.