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Burnett expects to return to Pirates soon

Right-hander feels good after latest simulated game at Busch Stadium

ST. LOUIS -- A.J. Burnett walked off the mound after a simulated game in which his pitches matched the Friday afternoon temperature at Busch Stadium -- and it was boiling, 95 degrees -- and uttered the words that will get Pirates fans only more psyched for this stretch drive:

"I expect to be throwing soon for the Pirates, because I feel great."

Burnett will throw a bullpen session here on Sunday, after which a summit meeting including him, manager Clint Hurdle, pitching coach Ray Searage and general manager Neal Huntington will determine his next step.

However, it is already clear that the veteran right-hander, who plans to retire after this season, is on track in his recovery from the elbow inflammation that slammed him on the disabled list on July 31 -- and on schedule to rejoin the chase of the Cardinals. On a regular every-fifth-day pitching program, Burnett could throw one more sim game on Sept. 9, then face the Cubs in one of the games of the Sept. 15 day-night doubleheader at PNC Park.

"I came here to help us win, and I can't do that on the DL," Burnett said. "I just want to come back, do my job and try to get us closer to our goal. I know I'm not getting paid to get our guys out, I know that."

For four simulated innings, Burnett bore down on three of his guys -- Travis Snider, Michael Morse, Jaff Decker -- and gave them a familiar hard time.

"The hitters had the same reaction you'd see before. He had the same stuff we saw before he went down," Chris Stewart said after catching Burnett's workout.

That's the sort of review that could not have been anticipated five weeks after Burnett left Great American Ball Park's mound with a bad elbow and a bad mood. Both were much better Friday.

"Everything was good, sharp. Yeah, man, felt good, a lot better than I expected to," said Burnett, who after the sim game on the field actually added a bullpen round to get his pitch count into the mid-90s. "I thought it was a good test, 90-plus pitches in the heat, game-like. I got hot out there, but wasn't tired, and I'm very happy with that.

"I'm very pleased with the way the day went. It's one step closer to me coming back and helping."

"I'm looking forward to seeing how he feels tomorrow," Hurdle said. "We'll take it one day a time. But if he feels healthy … a healthy A.J. can come back and add value to everything we do."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast.
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, A.J. Burnett