PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates placed right-hander Nick Burdi on the 45-day injured list on Wednesday afternoon due to a right elbow injury, ending the promising young reliever’s season and adding to their list of unavailable arms.
Burdi, who was serving as the Pirates’ unofficial closer while the team awaits the return of Keone Kela, reported to the club’s medical staff on Tuesday that “the elbow just didn’t feel right” after he pitched Monday night at Target Field, Pittsburgh director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said Wednesday.
Burdi was evaluated by the club’s physicians on Wednesday, Tomczyk said, but they are still in the process of gathering information about his injury. Tomczyk said it would be inaccurate at this point to speculate that it is anything more specific than just a “right elbow injury.” But they know enough to determine that, between the injury itself and the time remaining in this shortened season, Burdi will not pitch again this year.
“We need to make sure we go through a comprehensive exam, both locally here and the surgeon that did his [previous] operation, before we give an official prognosis, in all fairness to Nick,” Tomczyk said.
Burdi, 27, has already overcome several significant injuries in his young career. As a prospect in the Twins' organization, he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017. After being picked by the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft and traded to the Pirates, he made his Major League debut in September 2018. In April 22, 2018, he crumpled to the ground in pain on the mound at PNC Park due to pain related to neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.
Burdi had surgery last summer and worked his way back to the mound in Spring Training, blowing away hitters with 100 mph heat. He finished the Pirates’ first victory of the season on July 26 in St. Louis, striking out all three hitters he faced, then picked up his first Major League save on July 28 against the Brewers.
He warmed up and technically entered Sunday’s game at Wrigley Field, but he never threw a pitch as the game was delayed by rain. He took the loss on Monday night in Minneapolis, though he showed no signs of discomfort as his fastball averaged 97.9 mph and topped out at 99.1 mph.
The Pirates hope to have Kela back soon, as the closer has thrown two bullpen sessions since being cleared to return from the COVID-19 injured list. Tomczyk said Kela could face hitters, the final step before he joins the active roster “in the coming days.”
But Pittsburgh’s bullpen has been decimated by injuries. When Tomczyk provided an update on all their injured players before Wednesday’s game at PNC Park, it took him four minutes and 10 seconds just to get through them all.
Setup man Kyle Crick resumed throwing on Wednesday after being placed on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder/lat muscle strain on July 28. Right-hander Michael Feliz is out for the season with a strained forearm/elbow. Tomczyk said Clay Holmes, also on the 10-day IL with a strained right forearm, has not begun throwing as he continues to report “some mild symptoms.”
On Wednesday, the Pirates faced the Twins with a bullpen consisting of right-handers Richard Rodriguez, Chris Stratton, Geoff Hartlieb, Dovydas Neverauskas, Yacksel Rios and Cody Ponce, and lefties Miguel Del Pozo, Sam Howard and Nik Turley.
The Pirates’ rotation has been similarly beset by injuries, which led them to bump JT Brubaker out of their bullpen and onto the starting staff. Right-hander Mitch Keller, who’s on the 10-day IL with a left oblique strain, is not yet throwing and “still feels some limitation with some movements,” Tomczyk said. Pittsburgh entered the season knowing it would be without right-handers Jameson Taillon (Tommy John surgery) and Chris Archer (neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome) all year.
Tomczyk said Archer, who is at home in California, is working on regaining his range of motion and strength. Taillon is throwing bullpens twice a week at PNC Park, and he posted on Twitter on Tuesday that he is throwing curveballs for the first time since undergoing surgery last year.
Catcher Luke Maile, who is out for the year after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured right index finger, is working a couple of days a week with the Pirates’ training staff in Bradenton, Fla. Infielder Kevin Kramer, who underwent season-ending hip surgery before Summer Camp began, is still projected to return next year.