Pirates starting pitcher Burnett facing orbital surgery after bunt drill

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, March 2, 2012

BRADENTON, Fla. — After pitcher A.J. Burnett has surgery Friday to repair a broken orbital bone, the Pirates should have a better idea of when — or if — their standout right-hander might return to spring training camp.

Burnett was struck near his right eye by a batted ball Wednesday during a bunt drill. Assisted by an athletic trainer, Burnett seemed to be dazed as he left the field with a towel pressed against his face. He then flew to Pittsburgh, where team doctors determined surgery was necessary.

The Pirates did not provide specific information about Burnett's injury or treatment. General manager Neal Huntington on Thursday left Pirate City without speaking to reporters and was unavailable for comment later, as he attended a charity golf tournament.

Burnett had been expected to be the Opening Day starter, but it's possible he will begin the season on the disabled list.

"Without knowing all the details, I'd say he'll probably be out two to four weeks," said Dr. Robert Schwarcz, director of oculoplastic surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "A lot depends on what (bones) were broken and whether there was any muscle impingement."

Even if Burnett makes a rapid recovery, he will be behind the other pitchers in the starting rotation. It's unlikely he would be ready to pitch a regular-season game after only one or two weeks of spring training workouts.

A fractured orbital is the second-most common form of facial bone injury after a broken nose, Schwarcz said. Damage can to be sustained to the floor, sides and/or roof of the orbital bones.

Such an injury sometimes results in double vision. But, Schwarcz said, vision problems usually are only temporary.

Burnett remained conscious after being hit and even cracked jokes as he left the field — which would seem to imply the injury is not devastating.

Steelers linebacker James Harrison fractured his orbital bone in the Oct. 2 game against the Houston Texans. Harrison played against the Texans after sustaining the injury, then later had surgery. He missed four games and returned to the starting lineup Nov. 6 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Schwarcz said Burnett is fortunate to be a baseball player.

"If he was a weightlifter or some other athlete that puts a lot of pressure on his face, he'd be done for the year," Schwarcz said.

The Pirates acquired Burnett, 35, on the first day of spring training in a three-player trade with the New York Yankees. The Pirates are responsible for $13 million of the $33 million Burnett will make over the next two seasons.

Burnett made 10 trips to the disabled list over his first nine years in the majors but has been practically injury-free the past three seasons.

Bedard gets the start

With Burnett out indefinitely, Erik Bedard will start Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, and reliever Daniel Moskos will take Burnett's spot in the group of active pitchers that day.

Moskos was scratched from pitching in the intrasquad game Friday.

Burnett had been slated to pitch the first two innings Sunday

Odds and ends

Casey McGehee will be the Gold team's designated hitter in the intrasquad game, with Pedro Alvarez at third base and Garrett Jones at first. For the Black team, Matt Hague will play first base, with Nick Evans at third and Jeff Clement at DH. ... The Pirates' game against the Boston Red Sox at 7 p.m. March 9 will be televised by MLB Network. ... Brad Lincoln beat Michael Crotta in the final round of the pitchers' bunting tournament on Thursday. A disc jockey played "Eye of the Tiger" before the semifinals began — maybe not the best choice, considering Burnett's injury — and Lincoln received a title belt for his victory.

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2012 Pirates Spring Training

2012 Pirates Spring Training

Photos from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

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