Spring Training: Burnett 'furious' about demotion

Had 0.90 ERA, but says 'it's like I didn't have a chance'

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- It had been anticipated that Sean Burnett would not take it well if the Pirates were to cut him.

He did not.

"I'm furious," he said yesterday by phone from Wellington, Fla., where his first child was born Thursday. "It's frustrating and disappointing. I really thought I had a chance of making this team. And to hear the reasons they gave me -- or more like the excuses they made up -- they didn't really give me a chance."

Burnett was reassigned to Class AAA Indianapolis yesterday, making him the last official cut to achieve the 25-man limit for opening day Monday.

And this cut, without question, was the most glaring.

He had a 0.90 ERA and allowed one run and three hits in 10 innings. To boot, that run and those hits all came in his first appearance Feb. 29, his only one as a starter. After that, once he received his wish to switch to relief to enhance his chance of making the team, he did not allow a hit in his final eight innings.

Most impressive, Burnett displayed zip (seven strikeouts) and command (two walks) unseen since his promising debut in 2004 was buried by two arm surgeries.

No less an authority than the man who cut him acknowledged the performance.

"Candidly, nobody has outpitched him," general manager Neal Huntington said. "But it's not just about 12 spring training games. We're excited about Sean's progress. He's healthy. The ball is coming out of his hand great. But there are some durability, some resiliency questions."

Because Burnett is new to the bullpen, Huntington elaborated, the Pirates want to see how he handles situations that went mostly untested here.

"Can he go three innings and 50 pitches and come back two days later? What happens if he warms up in the sixth and doesn't pitch until the eighth?" Huntington said. "We have a lot of questions to answer."

Burnett's stance is that those questions already could have been answered.

"It's just disappointing knowing that, from the reasons they gave me, it's like I didn't have a chance," he said. "They knew [very] well I wasn't going to warm up in the fifth and go out in the seventh in a spring game. If that's how they felt, they could have organized it that way. They could have sent me over to minor-league games to do just that. But they didn't. There never was an opportunity."

Huntington informed Burnett he was being cut late Thursday by phone, choosing that route only because Burnett had family priorities on the other side of Florida with fiancee Jessica and newborn Sebastian Drew.

The conversation, according to both, was intense but civil.

"He was angry, and I understand that," Huntington said. "But I can tell you I gained an awful lot of respect for Sean during that talk."

"I told Neal where I stood, and he told me where he stood," Burnett said.

What appeared to bug Burnett most was that, when Huntington announced the final roster moves yesterday, he said of the pitching staff: "We're taking the best 12 north."

"Look, I know you can't go just by spring stats. Anybody can get hot for a month," Burnett said. "But the way the ball was coming out of my hand, the movement, the location ... if you talk to people who have seen me in the past, they'll tell you everything was back. For Neal to say he took the 12 best ... my personal opinion is that he took the 12 best from a business standpoint."

There were such considerations, to be sure: The final three pitchers named to the roster were Rule 5 draft pick Evan Meek, who must be offered back to the Tampa Bay Rays if not retained all season, and Franquelis Osoria and Phil Dumatrait, each out of options. Unlike those two, Burnett does not need to clear waivers to be demoted because Huntington removed him from the 40-man roster Feb. 1.

"From Neal's point of view, he still has those guys and me, so that's good business for him. But -- and nothing against anybody else -- that doesn't mean you took the 12 best."

The whole scene seems a sequel to the one last year, when Burnett did not allow an earned run in 11-plus innings before being cut. He used the same word, "furious," back then, too.

"Yeah, but this is different," he said yesterday. "I got people out last spring, but I didn't have the stuff I have now."

It has been a whirlwind 48 hours, including yesterday, when the child was taken home for the first time.

"The baby trumps all of this," Burnett said. "That was the greatest day of my life, and nothing that Neal could say or the Pirates could do would change that."

The next step will be to join Indianapolis at Pirate City tomorrow to pitch an inning.

From there, manager Trent Jewett is expected to use him as that team's primary left-handed reliever -- Juan Perez is gone, and veteran Casey Fossum asked for his release yesterday, in part, because he learned how much Burnett will pitch -- and give him what the Pirates have told him will be a genuine chance to climb back.

How long might it take?

The most prominent variable likely will be Meek. Management wants to take a longer look, a month at the least, before determining if he should be kept all year.

"I'll just go be the best reliever I can be," Burnett said.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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