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Determination leads Burnett back to mound

Pirates veteran 'excited' for Thursday's start vs. Brewers at PNC Park, his first since July 30

CINCINNATI -- A.J. Burnett has only a few weeks left -- two months, best-case scenario -- before he plans to call it a career. He didn't want to spend that time watching from the Pirates' dugout.

The 38-year-old right-hander is more than ready to get back on the mound for the Pirates on Thursday night at PNC Park, where he'll face the Brewers in his first start since July 30.

"I'm excited," Burnett said. "I wouldn't take the mound if I didn't feel like I was prepared and ready to go."

After receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection Aug. 3 to help heal the flexor strain in his right elbow, Burnett healed quickly and has worked his way back in a little more than a month's time.

Burnett has said he will retire at the end of the season, bringing an end to his 17-year career, so he took an aggressive approach to his rehabilitation with pitching coach Ray Searage and the Pirates' training staff.

"It's totally by feel," Burnett said. "That was the only good thing about the whole thing is we just went on how I felt, not really a timetable. Just me getting ready."

After an All-Star first half in which he went 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA, Burnett struggled in three second-half starts before going on the disabled list just before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

He rested for a few days after receiving the PRP injection then got back to throwing -- first off flat ground, then in the bullpen and finally against his teammates in simulated games.

"I didn't sense a lot of restlessness," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I just sensed a lot of focus and determination."

Now, Burnett is ready for the real thing.

"I'm not here to pitch to our guys. So once I got ready on the mound, it was time to go," Burnett said. "I've responded well from throwing, and I've responded the days after. It's time for the next step, and that's to get back on the mound."

And where better for Burnett to make his return than PNC Park? He's 2-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 10 home starts this season, and the fans will surely be happy to see "Batman" back on the mound again.

"Why not do it at home?" Burnett said. "Seems the most comfortable spot."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett