A day after hearing cheers in Pittsburgh that made him eager to pitch for the Pirates, A.J. Burnett took the mound Friday for the Bradenton Marauders and took another step toward the Bucs' rotation. Making a rehab start against the St. Lucie Mets in a Class A Florida State League game at McKechnie Field, Burnett allowed two hits and one run in 4 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out five in his first competitive outing on the road back from March 2 facial surgery. "I feel good. I could've gone another [inning]. But I got my work in and we're sticking to the program," Burnett said after throwing approximately 70 pitches. "I just wanted to get out there. I felt strong. Definitely a good one.
"I got to pitch out of the stretch, cover first a few times and run to back up bases at other times. It's good to get acclimated to the mound in game situations. You've got to be able to react to balls being hit; you can pitch all the batting practice you want and it's not the same." Burnett's rehab is proceeding one step at a time, and his next assignment will be determined in a few days. "We'll see how I feel five days from now, and go from there," he said. "But everything feels good right now. Every time out, I'm getting better and better. I'd let them know if I can't go, or if I need more time." The Pirates formally placed Burnett on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, retroactive to March 26, making him eligible to be activated on April 10. Burnett returned to Bradenton after attending Thursday's Opening Day festivities at PNC Park, where he received one of the biggest welcoming cheers from the record crowd of 39,585. "I didn't want to miss it," he said of his quick detour to Pittsburgh. "I wanted to be sure to be there. It was a good ovation, and it meant a lot coming from the fans. I can't wait to get on the field for them."
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.