Burnett appreciates familiarity with Pirates

Back with Bucs, veteran righty tosses two shutout innings in spring debut

Burnett appreciates familiarity with Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Now it was real. A.J. Burnett returned to the Pirates for a variety of selfish reasons, but they were all mere concepts until he took the mound in an actual game on Saturday, when notions became feelings.

"Yeah, more than before," Burnett agreed after the first outing of his second coming, a two-inning shutout start in the 1-1, 10-inning tie with the Rays. "The fans and everybody ... just to get back out there for these guys, to pitch for them, was great."

How great?

"I felt good. Felt better than I've felt in a long time," said Burnett, making it understood he wasn't just comparing first outings. "Just in general ... everything, being back in the uniform, the guys around me, having 48 people watching me warm up [in the bullpen before the game].

"It's just great to be back here, and that plays into everything. It frees you up to go out and just work on pitching, and that's what I'm going to do."

Even the way the game began had a familiar feel for Burnett. The first hitter walloped his second pitch deep to right-center, where it was run down by center fielder Keon Broxton, who then bounced legs-first off the wall.

That took Burnett back to his very first start for the Bucs -- April 21, 2012, at PNC Park -- the Cardinals load the bases with none out in the first, on a Matt Carpenter single between walks of Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday, but do not score.

"Yeah, why wouldn't it start off that way? Man, what a play," Burnett smiled over Broxton. "That's what they do here. That's what they preach: Play hard from the first pitch to the last."

Burnett was on from his personal first pitch to his last, turning away the Rays on one single in an uncharacteristic exhibition debut. It was the first time since 2011 that he began with a shutout effort. In fact, reflecting a line typical of veteran pitchers who devote exhibition game time to fine tuning, Burnett entered this spring with a career preseason ERA of 5.36.

Offering his own reflection of seeing Burnett close the circle, manager Clint Hurdle said: "It kinda puts a period at the end of the sentence."

Touching all the bases

• First: Elias Diaz confirmed all the raves about his arm, as the catcher ended the seventh by throwing out Eugenio Velez attempting to steal second and the eighth by picking Ryan Brett off first.

• Second: The Pirates have scored three runs in 28 innings at McKechnie Field, on a wild pitch, a throwing error, and a hit by Jaff Decker.

• Third: Buccos pitchers plunked three more batters; that's six in five exhibitions.

• Home: Vance Worley (three innings), Clayton Richard (two) and Mark Melancon are due to pitch in Monday morning's "B" game at Pirate City against the Twins.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.