First baseman Garrett Jones and catcher Michael McKenry stood in the cage as Burnett took the mound in Bradenton for the first time this spring. Burnett threw an inning (20 pitches), sat, then went out for another inning (20 pitches).
“It felt great,” Burnett said of his live BP session. “Today was a very fun day. Big step, felt strong, had good action on everything. It’s a first step…It was pretty good.”
“Pretty much just mixed everything up, change-up, hooks, heaters, both sides of the plate,” Burnett said. “I was amped up the whole time. I was ready for today. I was looking forward to today. It’s going to open some eyes today. Hopefully they’ll see that I’m going a little bit earlier than they thought. We’re going to be smart about it either way. It was a good step in the right direction.”
Burnett continues to progress back from eye surgery to repair the fractured orbital bone in his right eye while fouling on a bunt attempt at Pirate City last month.
“I’m definitely close,” Burnett said. “I’m closer now than when I was when I got hurt. That’s part of it. They have a schedule. We’re going to follow it the best we can.”
“It’s all in pencil though. That’s a good thing,” Burnett said with a smile. “I had defense behind me, guys we’re chirping, feedback from the hitters was great. It’s just a good day.”
The Pirates defense stood behind him on the field, and in the dugout was the rest of the players in camp sitting on the bench cheering him on. His teammates hollered during his BP session, and after he walked off the mound, he was greeted with high fives.
“Them being out there and acting like that, it makes it fun,” Burnett said. “We’re here to have fun. Get your work in. They were as happy to see me out there as I was happy to be out there.”
The next step for Burnett will come in two days, where he is tentatively scheduled to throw a simulated game.
“The next time will be more important, because it will be minor league guys and I’ll work on more stuff that I won’t do on our own guys,” Burnett said. “The next time will be really good…It will be game-like. It won’t have a [L] screen. Move around, react to ground balls, react to bunts, things like that.”
“I thought it was a good day for A.J.,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “He was able to hold his backside, work downhill on the mound. Threw all his pitches. It was the next step. We’ll add one more to it next time, throw out the screen, throw out the cage and throw a simulated game with counts and stuff like that. It was a good day for A.J. today.”