Pirates: Burnett's recovery continues

Pitcher feels strong after bullpen session, will throw batting practice Saturday

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Starter A.J. Burnett pitched a bullpen session Wednesday at McKechnie Field, the latest step in his recovery from surgery.

Burnett, who had surgery March 2 to repair a broken orbital bone beneath his right eye, threw 52 pitches to bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade with pitching coach Ray Searage watching. He threw fastballs and breaking pitches, and his fastball command appeared sharp.

He said he opted for another bullpen session rather than live batting practice to help his body regain its strength and that his arm and legs felt better.

"Strength feels good, just timing, mechanics, things like that," said Burnett, who now sports only a faint scar beneath his right eye. "Today was definitely a big step, a lot better than the previous two."

He is scheduled to throw live batting practice Saturday.

"I'm still behind these guys a little bit," Burnett said. "The more I can get up there, the better off I'm going to be."

The Pirates issued a tentative two- to three-month timetable for Burnett's return, placing the date between early May and early June. He returned quickly after the surgery to baseball activity.

"My workouts haven't gotten to where I want them to yet," he said. "They will, once games start and I'm on a five-day routine. Each day is gradually putting more in there, going a little harder."

Pirates reassign four

The Pirates reassigned first baseman Jeff Clement, outfielder Brandon Boggs, and right-handers Tim Wood and Daniel Cabrera to minor league camp Wednesday morning.

There are 39 active players left in camp: 20 pitchers, 5 catchers, 10 infielders and 4 outfielders.

Clement, 28, was attempting to prove he had fully recovered from microfracture knee surgery he had in September 2010. He did not have a hit in nine at-bats during spring training. He said the Pirates wanted him to get more at-bats, and that he felt good so far in spring.

"Play more and see what happens," he said. "I have confidence that if I just take care of what I'm capable of, it's going to work out the way it's supposed to."

He hit .271 in 59 at-bats for Class AAA Indianapolis near the end of the 2011 season. The surgery was the third of his major league career on his left knee.

"Obviously with the knee history there's more preparation that I have to do before, to get it loosened up, and then afterward with the ice and everything," Clement said.

Boggs, 29, had two hits in 20 at-bats with eight strikeouts in spring training. He spent most of 2011 with Class AAA Nashville in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization and hit .241 with a .381 on-base percentage.

"You just got to keep continuing to get better and help this team sometime during the year," Boggs said. "That's my focus."

Wood, 29, allowed one run and four hits in 32/3 innings this spring and struck out two without walking a batter. He appeared in 13 games for the Pirates in 2011. Cabrera, 30, did not pitch in 2011 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Forearm tightness limited him this spring.

Pirates defeat Red Sox

Nate McLouth's two-run home run in the seventh inning gave the Pirates a 6-5 win against the Boston Red Sox Wednesday at McKechnie Field.

McLouth is hitting .400 this spring.

Starter Kevin Correia allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings. He gave up two hits each to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez.

"They hit a couple of good pitches and I missed on a couple," Correia said. "I was pretty happy with my command today."

The Pirates scored four runs in the third. Josh Harrison doubled, his second hit of the game, and Andrew McCutchen singled to score Harrison. Casey McGehee and Neil Walker singled, scoring McCutchen, but McGehee was caught between second and third. Matt Hague hit his third home run of the spring on an 0-2 pitch against Jon Lester.

"Hague's bat, that's the tool that's shown up for him throughout his minor league career," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's showing up now."

Saltalamacchia hit a two-run home run on the first pitch he saw in the fourth, and Gonzalez's second double of the game scored Kevin Youkilis and tied the score, 4-4, in the fifth.

McCutchen is hitting .414 this spring, Harrison is hitting .579 and Hague is at .429.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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