NEW YORK — Sean Burnett took to the bullpen mound at Citi Field Monday afternoon and threw a bullpen session, testing his sore right elbow off a mound for the first time since Sept. 2.
The Washington Nationals’ left-hander came through the workout feeling a significant decrease in pain and expects to be available in a game soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday night but more likely Wednesday.
“Everything seemed well,” Burnett said of the session, which lasted about 15 pitches. “It felt better. I’ll probably go out and see how it feels tomorrow, play catch, and hopefully I’ll be active tomorrow night… I don’t think there’s anything more scheduled besides just playing catch tomorrow and heading out there.”
Burnett, who has been on anti-inflammatory medicine for the issue recently and has struggled with pain in his elbow since at least the All-Star break, acknowledged that he still does not feel 100 percent. But he noticed that the natural movement he usually has on his pitches returned in Monday’s session, an encouraging sign that his effectiveness, which had waned in August, will also return.
“It was just more typical ball flight that I’m used to seeing and movement,” Burnett said. “It probably hadn’t been like that in two or three weeks… I was able to create more hand-speed, get more extension. I was probably cutting it off a little bit, not babying it, but I knew it was going to hurt a little bit when I let it go. So probably favoring it more, you could say. So I got to just let it go (Monday) and it seemed better. My movement was back. My breaking ball was sharp. So I should be good to go.”
Nationals manager Davey Johnson was a little less optimistic that Burnett would be available Tuesday night, but did point to Wednesday as a logical target for his return to “active” status in the bullpen.
“He’ll get (Tuesday) off,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how he feels (Tuesday). If everything is alright, he’ll be good to go for Wednesday… Normally coming back from something bothering him, I give him a day of rest to regroup and then I go, but I would expect he’d want to be in (Tuesday) night. I would expect that of Sean. My riverboat gambler.”
It took the Nationals some time to convince Burnett that the rest was an important step in trying to get him back on track. Burnett, who did not have an MRI but was given plenty of physical tests to ensure the soundness of his ligaments and has already undergone one Tommy John surgery, was willing to pitch through the pain — especially given the weight of the Nationals’ games.
But eventually even he realized he may have to sit out for a few games, in order for him not to hinder the rest of the team.
“They had to convince me (it’d be better to miss some time now and be ready down the stretch),” Burnett said. “That was hard for me. It feels like it’s been a month (off) for me.
“But it got to a point where it wasn’t fair for me, it wasn’t fair to my teammates to go out there not 100 percent, in a pennant race, and put stuff in jeopardy. It wasn’t right to my teammates. But I felt like a week off would freshen me up a little bit and hopefully get back with no pain. And today it was better. It seemed like the action on the ball was back.”