There couldn’t be a starker contrast of pitchers than tonight’s starting pitching match up. On the Phillies side you have rookie Jonathan Pettibone making his major league debut, and in the other corner you have the wily veteran A.J. Burnett. To put the age discrepancy into perspective, Burnett made his major league debut when Pettibone was just 9-years old. All eyes will be on the youngster tonight, but the Phillies would be foolish not to pay attention to Burnett’s hot start. As tonight’s opener approaches I can’t help but think on a quote from “Indians” manager Lou Brown,
"“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called “two in a row”. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a “winning streak”… It has happened before!” – Lou Brown (Major League)"
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Jonathan Pettibone (0-0, -.– ERA)
Here’s what we know about Pettibone. He’s the first of the heralded group of young Phillies prospects dubbed the “baby aces” to make his debut with the big club. Fellow gang members Jarred Cosart and Trevor May were shipped out, and Brody Colvin has regressed into irrelevancy. Pettibone was not the likely choice to be the first to get his shot, as he was just a third round pick never wowing scouts with any one pitch.
His success is predicated on all of his pitches working together. He throws a serviceable heater, with a good change, and a cutter that was added to his arsenal recently. Like most young pitchers his stuff is ahead of his command, but the kid knows how to pitch rather than just try to throw past hitters. That high IQ will be important tonight as he gets his first real taste against major league hitters. If big Jon can get through what is always an emotionally charged first inning, I expect a solid outing from the young right-hander.
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A.J. Burnett (1-2, 2.63 ERA)
If it seems like A.J. Burnett has been pitching forever it’s because it’s true. Burnett made his debut at age 22, and is still going strong 14 years later. He’s had his ups and downs over his career, but has become a polished veteran in his time in Pittsburgh.
He won’t touch 99-mph anymore, but that hasn’t kept him from leading all of baseball in punch outs with 35. Pitching in the national league seems to suit him best, as he has established himself as the unquestioned ace of this young Pirates squad.
The Phillies have seen a lot of Burnett over the years, including a world series meeting in 2009, but this isn’t the A.J. of old. He no longer leaves up the occasional fatty trying overpower hitters, so the Phils will have to pick their spots carefully. I never thought I’d say this about Burnett, but I already regret passing on him in my fantasy draft.
No Phillie has faced Burnett more than Jimmy Rollins. J-Roll made his debut just a few years after Burnett, and the two faced off in many a battle between the Phillies and Marlins. Rollins is hitting .249 (12-49) against A.J., but has an OBP of .356 that is above his career average. Now that Jimmy is back in the lead-off spot, he’ll need to continue his on base success against Burnett.
Ryan Howard has what can only be described as a very “Howard-esque” line against Burnett. He has only three career hits off him, but all have left the yard. That’s the definition of all or nothing.
It’s really anyone’s guess how Pettibone will fair in his debut. His 9.64 ERA at Lehigh Valley this year doesn’t bode well, but pitching under the big lights of Citizens Bank Park might be just the thing for him to put it all together.