Burnett thrives against all odds

2-time Tommy John surgery recipient pitches two scoreless innings

March 8th, 2017
Sean Burnett is battling for a spot in the Phillies' bullpen. (AP)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Early in 2014 -- frustrated with a futile rehab and armed with the knowledge that the ligament in his left elbow would pop again -- returned to his hotel room in Tempe, Ariz., to force the issue.

He set up pillows against the headboard of his bed, picked up a few baseballs and started firing.

"I threw the ball as hard as I could against the bed, trying to get it to pop myself," Burnett said Wednesday afternoon after pitching two scoreless innings in a 3-2 loss to the Braves in a Grapefruit League game at Champion Stadium. "I knew it was just a matter of time before it would pop."

Burnett, 34, is in Phillies camp this spring with a shot to make the bullpen. He is one of four left-handed relievers with a chance. The others are , and .

Burnett is the only one in the group to have had not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. He had the first in Sept. 2004 after making 13 starts with the Pirates. He returned to the big leagues in 2008 as a reliever and posted a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances with the Pirates and Nationals from 2009-12. He signed with the Angels before the 2013 season, but spent much of the year on the disabled list with an elbow problem.

He never improved. He visited Dr. James Andrews, who looked at his elbow in 2014. Andrews called him the following morning to tell him it was only a matter of time before the ligament would fail him again.

"The pain that I was in was excruciating," Burnett said. "It was kind of like a ticking time bomb that went off in Seattle."

Burnett blew out the ligament on May 27, 2014 in Seattle, throwing a pitch to Mariners outfielder .

Burnett and Saunders are teammates this year. They faced each other in a live batting practice session last month.

"It was a little weird to face him," said Burnett, who had his second Tommy John surgery in June 2014. "I had all of those bad memories. I had some choice words for him when he stepped in the batter's box. We had a good time with it."

Burnett has allowed four hits, two runs and one walk in five innings this spring. He had a 2.85 in 47 appearances in Triple-A last season and allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings in 10 appearances late last season with the Nationals.

"He's always been a strike-thrower," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "If he throws strikes with all his pitches he can be very effective out of the bullpen. That's wide open. There's definitely a need."

"I saw an opportunity," Burnett said. "I was just looking for an opportunity from anyone. I feel great this spring and feel like I can literally let the ball go now."