Burnett finally rejoining Pirates today

Exiting pitcher could be Rule 5 pick Meek

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WASHINGTON -- It took four frustrating years, but Sean Burnett finally is heading back to Major League Baseball.

And, in the process, Evan Meek likely is out.

Burnett, the Pirates' best reliever in spring training and their best reliever at Class AAA Indianapolis, was informed by management last night that will be promoted this morning. Indianapolis was playing in nearby Norfolk, Va., so he is expected to report in plenty of time for the 1:35 p.m. game against Washington today at Nationals Park.

There were strong indications late last night that, to clear roster space, Meek, the Rule 5 draft pick, was being offered back to Tampa Bay. Meek must clear waivers for that process to begin. Once it does, the Pirates can either offer Meek to the Rays for half the original claiming price of $50,000 or arrange a trade. A trade between the teams long has been seen as unlikely.

The Pirates have been handcuffed in several games, including the 9-8 loss to the Nationals yesterday, by their lack of -- or wariness of using -- their middle relief, a frustration heightened by the starters' general inability to go deep into games.

Meek, who turns 25 next week, never pitched above Class AA before this season, and his adjustment has been mostly rough: He has a 6.92 ERA, 12 walks, three home runs and seven strikeouts in 14 innings. He has fared better of late, though, with three consecutive scoreless appearances.

The Pirates' stated plan for Meek has been to keep him on the roster for as long as he does not hurt the major-league club, hoping for the best scenario to infuse a badly needed power arm into the organization. Meek has shown a fastball as high as 97 mph.

Burnett, 25, pitched 13 games for the Pirates in 2004 before his career was derailed by elbow and shoulder surgeries that caused him to sit out all of 2005. He has pitched only for Indianapolis the past two-plus seasons and, for much of that recovery, often struggled with command.

Not so this year.

After a spring in which he did not give up a run or hit as a reliever, he lasted until the final cut of camp. In 12 appearances for Indianapolis, he had a 0.98 ERA and three saves, with 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 1/3 innings.

He will be used by the Pirates as a middle reliever but not for longer than an inning or two. That leaves long relief to John Van Benschoten, who has been a pleasant surprise to some in management with his initial work -- 3 2/3 innings, two runs -- since being recalled last week.

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


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