Step one is recovery from the surgery itself, expected to last up to two weeks. Its duration, Huntington said, depends "on how the swelling goes down and on how his body recovers from the trauma of the surgery."Then comes the reconditioning, and finally, again in the GM's words, Burnett will go through "the same progression as he would have gone through here in Spring Training." "The very rough timetable to complete this process," Huntington concluded, "and have A.J. prepared to compete without restrictions at the Major League level is 8-12 weeks." Bear in mind that even before the injury, Burnett was four weeks from that target, since exhibition play hasn't even begun. So, theoretically, the injury sets him back 4-8 weeks from the April 5 Opening Day, putting him tentatively on target to hook up with the rotation early-May to mid-June. "It will take as long as it will take. I've always said injuries are a gray area," Huntington said. "It will be up to his body. How we move through the process will be up to us. If that was up to him, he'd probably want to pitch tomorrow. "That wouldn't be a smart thing to let happen as an organization. We're the ones who have to be smart. What A.J. does today will dictate what he can do tomorrow." While there are multiple derivative concerns about this type of injury -- double-vision, nerve and tissue damage -- Huntington indicated none surfaced during the surgery at Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital by Dr. Randall Beatty and that "we were most concerned about the fracture, and that has been repaired." "Of course," Huntington added, "he's got a pretty good shiner now." Losing Burnett for perhaps the first third of the season, the GM said, conversely does not give the Pirates a black eye. "Our thoughts are with him. It's a very unfortunate situation he finds himself in," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The one thing we were very cognizant of is that depth is critical, and we were very aggressive with creating more depth both with our starting pitchers and in our bullpen. "Things shift, and when shift happens, you put your foot down and go from there. There'll be opportunities for other men. We'll move forward. You never focus on what you don't have. You focus on what you do have."
"No slight to A.J., but three weeks ago we did not have him on the roster," said Huntington, citing his Feb. 18 acquisition from the Yankees. "When he gets out there, he'll make us better. But we still feel we have capable quality starting pitchers ready to go."Now the competition [for the rotation] goes from seven to six. We also look for, hopefully, guys to step forward in Spring Training, maybe force their way into the picture. But we still overall feel good about our pitching staff, about our rotation." The half-dozen cited by Huntington include rookie Brad Lincoln, the veteran lefty Erik Bedard -- signed as a free agent -- and incumbents Jeff Karstens, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton.
"We're disappointed [to lose Burnett]. I feel bad for him, not the team as much," Morton said. "I feel for him."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.