Burnett odd man out in Pirates' bullpen

Burnett odd man out in Pirates' bullpen

BRADENTON, Fla. -- And then there were 12.

Left-hander Sean Burnett became the final pitcher cut from Pirates Major League camp Friday morning, which left Franquelis Osoria, Phil Dumatrait and Evan Meek to find out they will accompany the team to Atlanta and open the season in Pittburgh's bullpen.

With the decision to reassign Burnett to Minor League camp, the Pirates finally finished trimming what started as 38 pitchers in big league camp down to the final 12. As a result, the club will open the season with three lefties -- Dumatrait, Damaso Marte and John Grabow -- and four right-handers -- Osoria, Meek, Tyler Yates and closer Matt Capps -- in the bullpen.

For Burnett, word he would be starting the season back in Triple-A Indianapolis hit hard. While Pirates management had hoped to sit down with him to discuss their decision, circumstances surrounding the birth of Burnett's son dictated that general manager Neal Huntington be forced to deliver the news to Burnett over the phone Thursday evening.

"He was angry. He was diasappointed," Huntington said. "He took it hard, but he took it as a professional."

Burnett will remain in Wellington, Fla., to be with his fiancée, Jessica, and their newborn son until Sunday, when he will make an appearance in one of the Pirates' Minor League games.

Performance-wise, no one made a stronger case for inclusion on the Major League roster than Burnett. He pitched in eight games and allowed just one run in 10 innings. He finished out the month not allowing a hit in seven straight appearances.

However, Huntington stressed that the roster decision considered other factors beyond Spring Training results.

"We're real excited about what Sean's done this spring," Huntington said. "Candidly, I think nobody's outpitched him. But it's not just about the 12 Spring Training games. Sean's healthy. The ball is coming out of his hand great, but there are some durability [and] resiliency questions that we have to answer."

Indianapolis will use Burnett out of the bullpen in order for the Pirates to monitor how well he responds to pitching on back-to-back days and adapting to the mentality of being a reliever. Before this spring, Burnett, the Pirates' first-round Draft pick in 2000, had risen through the organization's Minor League system exclusively as a starter.

By keeping Meek rather than Burnett, the Pirates allow themselves more time to determine whether the 24-year-old Rule 5 Draft pick in December could be one of the organization's future pieces.

Since Burnett cleared waivers back in early February, he can be sent to Triple-A without having to clear waivers again. However, if the Pirates had decided not to add Meek to their roster, they would have had to offer him back to the Rays for $25,000.

Now, the organization has more time to observe both.

While Burnett learned that he would be the odd man out, for the three pitchers who learned that they had won those final spots, the excitement and relief were evident as the news sunk in Friday morning.

Meek immediately called home and talked with his father, who, Meek said, was in tears after hearing the news. Meek, himself, was still in disbelief.

"With everything that's happened over the last five years of my life, I can't tell you how much this means to me and my family," said Meek, who is with his fourth organization in five years. "It's one of the best feelings ever. It still hasn't sunk in."

He arrived at camp knowing that had everything to gain this spring because of his status as a Rule 5 Draft pick.

Having pitched in Double-A all of last season, early on he appeared to be a dark horse to make a bullpen that had a number of experienced players also trying to fill those last few spots. But despite periodic control issues, Meek showcased the power arm that had initially enticed the Pirates and gave them enough reason to want to continue to develop him.

Osoria, too, struggled to put into words how he felt, not so much because of the language barrier, but because of pure elation. The smile couldn't be wiped off his face.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm happy I made the team. I'm going to continue to work hard."

Osoria came into camp seemingly with an upper hand to be the team's right-handed setup man. After a dominant spring in which he had only one real hiccup, Osoria sealed a spot for himself. He and recently acquired pitcher Tyler Yates will now likely share the late-inning right-handed setup role.

The addition of Dumatrait gives the Pirates the long reliever and potential spot starter that the club needs. Dumatrait, who the Pirates claimed off waivers back in October, has spent his entire career as a starter.

This spring, he showed management he can bounce back on shorter rest and can warm up quickly -- a must coming out of the bullpen. Couple that with a newfound confidence that Dumatrait didn't have a year ago, and he became a natural fit for that long relief role.

"I just had a lot of confidence," said Dumatrait, who allowed 30 earned runs in 18 innings for the Reds during a short big league stint last season. "Every time I took the mound, I felt myself getting better. "

In addition to filling out the bullpen, the Pirates also released two of their pitchers.

After being reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday, Jaret Wright, whose contract gave him the option of remaining with the organization or declaring free agency, requested his release.

The Pirates also released pitcher Casey Fossum. The club had hoped to use Fossum in a relief role down in Indianapolis, but gave Fossum his release when the left-hander told the organization that he wanted an opportunity to start somewhere.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.