Burnett's first start on Opening Day comes with Pirates

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A.J. Burnett has played in the World Series and has earned more than $100 million over the course of his career.

But he has never pitched on opening day, a designation typically reserved for a team's top starter. In Miami, he pitched behind Josh Beckett. In Toronto, some guy named Roy Halladay cast a pretty big shadow. In New York, CC Sabathia was the ace of the staff.

A year ago, Burnett was on the disabled list after having surgery for a fractured orbital bone, an injury that occurred in spring training when he bunted a ball into his eye in a drill.

Today, Burnett, 36 finally gets his chance to throw the first pitch of the season as the Pirates' opening-day starter against the Chicago Cubs at 1:35 p.m. at PNC Park. Before a public workout Sunday at PNC Park, Burnett said he expects his emotions to be overwhelming.

"I'm not going to know what's up until I come out of the dugout to start warming up," he said. "I'm sure it's going to be amazing. It's been an amazing year for me, so I can only imagine what [today is] going to be like."

Burnett said he anticipated lingering on the honor for most of the night before his start, though he hoped to treat it like any other game.

But after the teams lineup on the basepaths and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley plays the national anthem, Burnett will walk out to the PNC Park mound for the first time in 2013.

"That's when the goose bumps are going to come," he said.

At the workout Sunday, Burnett and his 2013 teammates were introduced to about 2,000 fans, who braved chilly temperatures and the threat of rain to watch batting practice and fielding drills. The rain stayed away from the ballpark for most of the afternoon, though things were damp from earlier rain.

After the two-hour workout -- which was free to the public -- several players signed autographs for fans.

Many were optimistic that this group of players could end a 20-year streak of losing, as is manager Clint Hurdle. And part of the reason for his optimism is he gets to use Burnett for a full season. Burnett's injury a year ago kept him out of action until the third week of the season.

Hurdle called Burnett the Pirates' "best pitcher," and is as excited as Burnett to get him on the mound for opening day.

"I'm happy for him because he's getting the opportunity to do it for the first time," Hurdle said. "He's getting to do it here. This is a city that's embraced him, and he's embraced Pittsburgh."

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 or Twitter: @msanserino. First Published April 1, 2013 4:00 AM


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