This spring, bunting drills no sweat for Burnett

BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett did not have to cover any hits off Rage Against the Machine, those heavy-mental rappers. Contrary to his facetious refusal to do any more bunting off pitching machines, the right-hander on Wednesday went through bunting drills against the mechanical arm without incident.

Burnett's bunting outing was more noteworthy than usual, of course, because of the orbital-eye fracture he'd suffered during a bunting tournament last spring, which delayed his season three weeks.

As such, Burnett would be more likely to step into the batter's box in a hockey goalie mask than step atop the mound in one of those protective helmets for pitchers under consideration by Major League Baseball, intent on preventing recurrences of the fractured skull suffered last September by Oakland's Brandon McCarthy on a line drive by Erick Aybar.

According to MLB senior vice-president Dan Halem, two prototypes of the helmet are being tested in a University of Massachusetts lab.

"There is no way I'd ever wear one of those things," Burnett said. "Are they also going to have a chin strap with it to keep it from falling off your head as you deliver the pitch?"

Otherwise, the righty lightly shrugged off the proposed equipment, figuring it would be optional for veterans, who would be grandfathered against mandatory use the way they were when batting helmets were first introduced.