In the Major Leagues, Pirates’ Nick Burdi more than just a ‘Wild Thing’ |
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Jerry DiPaola

When Nick Burdi’s ophthalmologist told him he needed to correct the vision in his right eye, he didn’t choose black-rimmed glasses for any reason other than personal convenience.

“I had trouble putting (contacts) in and out,” the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rookie relief pitcher said. “I didn’t want to deal with it every day.”

What about trying to look intimidating for the batters?

“Maybe,” he said, laughing.

If that’s true, more than his glasses have served Burdi well through nine appearances (two victories and 15 strikeouts in 723 innings) this season. Yet, the glasses add to his pitching personality, giving him a look not unlike the character Ricky Vaughn in the 1989 baseball classic “Major League.”

His teammates in the bullpen have started calling him “Wild Thing,” and Keone Kela bought him a sleeveless black leather vest, similar to the one worn by Charlie Sheen in the movie.

And just like Vaughn, Burdi’s calling card is heat.

His surgically repaired right arm — he had Tommy John surgery May 3, 2017 — has produced fastballs that have topped out at 99 mph this season after hitting 102 and 103 earlier in his career.

Burdi, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, was a second-round draft choice (No. 46 overall) of the Minnesota Twins in 2014, which sounds nice, but it wasn’t good enough for him. Many mock drafts had projected him to be selected about 20 picks earlier.

“They’re getting one of the most determined people in the whole draft,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal at the time. “I’m not upset. I’m pissed now. I’m ready to play.”

Seven months into his recovery two years ago, he was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule 5 draft and then traded to the Pirates 15 minutes later for international slot money.

The Pirates were willing to be patient with Burdi, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has grown to appreciate the 26-year-old former high school quarterback’s physical gifts and approach to the game.

“We had a very good exit interview, leaving (2018) behind,” Hurdle said. “He’s very engaging, another guy’s who’s very prepared, hunts numbers, hunts some video. Very into strength and conditioning and recovery and nutrition.

“He’s on top of those things.”

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