PHOENIX -- A.J. Burnett's uniform made it to the Chase Field visitors' clubhouse early Tuesday afternoon, and Burnett himself was not far behind. The recovering Pirates right-hander was expected to be on the bench for Tuesday night's affair with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as he makes an extended detour from a Minor League rehab that has one start remaining. The plan is for Burnett to be examined by the team's medical staff, throw a side session under pitching coach Ray Searage's watch on Wednesday, travel back East with the Bucs, and make a final rehab start on Saturday with Double-A Altoona.
After that, he will be back with the Pirates to stay -- although he hasn't yet been even penciled into Clint Hurdle's rotation. "One more start. We'll leave it at that now," Hurdle said. "Then we'll go from there, barring any setbacks." A late April return would put Burnett right on target for the early end of the 8-12-week recovery window he'd been given following his March 2 surgery for a fractured right-eye orbital bone. Burnett is linking up with the Bucs fresh off his rocky but functional start on Monday night in Indianapolis. While touched for seven hits and five runs in four innings by Toledo, he upped his pitch count to 81 and had no health issues. "He spiked his pitch count, and his velocity was good. There's still some room for improvement," Hurdle said. "Maybe he wasn't as consistent as we want him, but his stamina was good. We just look to tighten up some things before we get him in a Major League game." This sets up as a potentially odd situation for the Pirates. Their five current starters have been nails, yet to allow more than three runs in any of their starts. Burnett's arrival would have to mean the exclusion of a current starter. The original design was for someone from the season-opening rotation to be moved to the bullpen, but the current relief corps has been even more effective than the starters. A trade is very much possible. Several Major League teams have already suffered key losses to their bullpens and would loom as logical trade partners.