Saturday, March 24, 2012

A.J. Burnett enjoys return to mound

(photo by John Lembo)

A.J. Burnett returned to a major-league mound Saturday morning, firing 40 pitches during a two-inning live batting practice session.

"It felt great. It was a good, fun day," Burnett said. "It was a big step. Felt strong."

Burnett faced right-handed hitting Michael McKenry and left-handed Garrett Jones prior to the Pirates' game with the Houston Astros in front of an audience that included pitching coach Ray Searage, manager Clint Hurdle and assistant general manager Kyle Stark.

He pitched from the stretch and the wind-up while infielders Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison and Matt Hague played behind him.

"Guys were chirping, feedback from the hitters was great," Burnett said. "Them being out there, acting like that, makes it fun. And we're here to have fun...They clapped when I walked off and everything. They were happy to see me out there as much as I was happy to be out there."

Burnett is working his way back after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured bone under his right eye. He suffered the injury during a February bunting tournament at Pirate City and isn't expected to pitch in a Grapefruit League game this spring.

After the March surgery, the Pirates said Burnett was expected to miss eight to 12 weeks.

"They have a schedule, and we're going to follow it the best we can," he said. "It's all in pencil, though, that's the good thing."

Burnett pitched behind an L-screen Saturday and didn't get a chance to field his position. That will change later this spring when he pitches in a simulated game.

"It will be game-like," he said. "I won't have a screen, I'll be able to move around, react to groundballs, react to bunts and keep moving."

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