Burger calls first game in 3 years 'special'

March 1st, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- played Sunday in his first Cactus League contest since Feb. 26, 2018, when he ruptured his left Achilles running out a grounder during his big league camp debut for the White Sox.

This 7-2 White Sox loss to the Brewers in six innings actually represented his first game action since that injury, although Burger worked at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg in 2020. He finished 0-for-3 as the starting third baseman in Tony La Russa’s managerial return to the dugout and couldn’t have been happier with how he felt.

“It was a special moment today,” said Burger during a postgame Zoom. “This is just another milestone in the comeback. It feels great to be out there with the guys and just playing baseball again. It was one of those things where it kind of told me that I belonged. Those injuries are well behind me and I’m back to playing baseball.”

“You can tell he's determined, and he's really pleased,” La Russa said. “I don't know that he ever took for granted the game of baseball, but he certainly is excited, happy to be playing and he hasn't had a bad day yet.”

Burger, 24, is a St. Louis kid who was in attendance at Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when David Freese hit the walk-off home run to keep the Cardinals alive. La Russa won his third World Series title the next day and then retired from baseball.

So, it’s not only exciting for Burger to be back, but also to be playing for La Russa. Burger spent time talking with shortstop Tim Anderson during infield warmups in between half-innings, featuring normal chatter mixed with advice from one of the team leaders.

There was one point Burger made to Anderson immediately after his first at-bat. The No. 13 White Sox prospect worked diligently to lose 40 pounds during the past year, but it was his old bulkier picture still featured on the Camelback Ranch scoreboard.

“I looked up at the scoreboard and I was like ‘I need to get that picture changed,’” said a smiling Burger. “I’m 40 pounds down from that picture. I really want a new picture.

“I’m just trying to take in as much information as I can and have fun with the guys again. Take good at-bats. It’s as simple as that.”

La Russa returns with a loss

La Russa understands that losing Game 1 in Cactus League action is virtually meaningless, but with the competitive juices back firing again, La Russa still would like to win more than he loses in Arizona.

“You've got to practice winning,” La Russa said. “You get 30 chances, so you don't want to wait until Opening Day.

“Whether the team or a manager, you're supposed to be using those games to anticipate and make decisions. That's why I like it, in the sense that when I get to Opening Day or October, there really isn't any difference in the concentration and the process.”

Keston Hiura’s three-run homer in the first gave the Brewers a quick lead, but La Russa liked how the White Sox scored two in the bottom half on Anderson’s single to right and Adam Engel’s home run. Andrew Vaughn, the team’s No. 1 prospect who is pushing to break camp as the designated hitter, walked twice.

“I don't have a crystal ball about whether he's on the squad April 1, but he's going to get a lot of opportunities to play his way on to this team,” La Russa said of Vaughn. “Today was the kind of start you expected. Really good at-bats, nice defensive play, he doesn't take an inning off. He's the real deal.”

Third to first

• Catcher Yasmani Grandal, who has been out since Wednesday after twisting his right knee running in drills, ramped up his hitting and throwing Sunday, per the White Sox. He is expected back soon.

• Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet were part of the group throwing live BP sessions on the backfields prior to Sunday’s Cactus League opener.

• Sunday’s crowd of 2,347 was considered a sellout, with safe social distancing being practiced at Camelback Ranch during the pandemic.

“It's the way the game is supposed to be played,” La Russa said. “After what we went through last year, it's a dramatic difference. Before the game the guys all noticed, and they appreciated the fans being there.”

He Said It

“I'm coming in with the intent that I'm here for a reason. I'm not here just to show face. I'm here to pitch to the best of my abilities and show them, whether it's off the bat or at some point this year, that you can call on me, you can trust me, you can use me.” -- Right-handed pitching prospect Kade McClure, who pitched a scoreless third with one strikeout