BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates fans will not get an Opening Day look at A.J. Burnett, who declined the opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh and join the April 5 festivities at PNC Park.
But if Burnett's performance Sunday in his first competitive outing of the spring is an indication, fans will see him soon enough -- and for real, not just for a bow.
Burnett's first real-game appearance, pitching for Double-A Altoona against the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, became an ideal 54-pitch outing.
Burnett threw 36 strikes while allowing one hit in "four" innings.
He was scheduled to go only three, but got through that so efficiently, in his final inning he stayed on the mound for the rare six-up, six-down inning.
"I would hope he won't have any six-out innings during the season. That would mean there were three errors behind him," said a smiling GM Neal Huntington.
As important, considering Burnett's main curiosity about his first competitive outing was how he would react to plays, he got to handle one comebacker and to run to cover first on a grounder to the first baseman. He handled both plays perfectly, showing no delays in reacting to his first plays since being waylaid by a fractured eye-orbital bone that required surgery on March 2.
"The ball was coming out of his hand real well," said pitching coach Ray Searage, who monitored Burnett's outing before rejoining the Pirates in Dunedin for their final Florida exhibition. "We got to extend him a bit in that last inning, so a very good outing."
After needing 17 pitches to get through the first, and only 14 more in the second, Burnett was held over in the third for 23 pitches. He had one three-ball count.
Burnett will next throw a side session on Tuesday at Pirate City, then make a rehab start with Bradenton on April 6 at McKechnie Field, after which his comeback timetable will be re-evaluated.