After suffering a fractured orbital bone in his right eye during a bunting drill on February 29, the expectation was that A.J. Burnett would need around eight to 12 weeks of recovery time. It sounds like he’ll meet the lower end of that timetable.
Burnett made his first minor league rehab start with High-A Bradenton last night and allowed one run on two hits over 4 2/3 innings. He threw approximately 70 pitches while striking out five and walking just one.
Burnett told Tom Singer of MLB.com that he felt good and should be ready to make the next step in his rehab process in five days.
“We’ll see how I feel five days from now, and go from there,” he said. “But everything feels good right now. Every time out, I’m getting better and better. I’d let them know if I can’t go, or if I need more time.”
There’s no formal timetable, but assuming no setbacks, Burnett should be stretched out in time to make his Pirates’ debut before the end of the month.
Burnett, 35, was acquired from Yankees in February for a couple of minor leaguers and cash considerations. He posted a 5.15 ERA and 173/83 K/BB ratio in 190 1/3 innings last year.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.