Pirates Demote Burnett, Youman, But Expect Both To Return

Saturday, March 24th 2007, 4:50 pm
By: News On 6

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) _ Maybe this illustrates some modest progress by the Pittsburgh Pirates: Sean Burnett was almost perfect as a starter this spring and still couldn't pitch his way onto their staff.

The left-handed Burnett, nearly three years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, was optioned to AAA Indianapolis by the Pirates on Saturday along with right-hander Shane Youman. Former Braves reliever Kevin Gryboski was reassigned to the minor league camp, leaving 38 players in camp a week before the Pirates wind up spring training.

Burnett could be an opening day starter for Indianapolis against Columbus on April 5. After being inconsistent in his first full season since the elbow operation with Indianapolis last year, he was 1-0 with 5-hits and no runs allowed in 11 1-3 innings this spring.

``He's showing us more fastball, better life to his sinker, more crispness to the breaking stuff,'' general manager Dave Littlefield said. ``He's a great competitor, someone we have very high hopes for _ which I'm sure will include pitching for us in 2007.''

The question is when. The Pirates' staff was all but set when camp opened with left-handers Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny, right-hander Ian Snell and one of two right-handers, Tony Armas or Shawn Chacon. Armas appears to have won the No. 4 starter's job, with Chacon going to the bullpen as a long reliever and Gorzelanny being the No. 5 starter.

Gorzelanny will stay in the rotation despite having a rough spring, going 0-1 with a 9.60 ERA, walking 11 and giving up 17 hits in 15 innings. He was 2-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 11 starts last season.

``He (Burnett) did everything he could to earn a spot on the club,'' manager Jim Tracy said. ``But Tom Gorzelanny _ we saw a lot of very positive things last year. You're watching what goes on in spring training, but what you've seen in the past when the bright lights go on, you can't be shortsighted about that. Gorzelanny had some very special moments last year.''

Burnett, 24, wasn't happy to be sent down, but anticipated the move.

``It's disappointing _ everyone wants to be on a big-league team _ but I'm going to go out there and throw the ball well and try to make it a tough decision for them,'' Burnett said.

Shortly after being recalled by Pittsburgh in May 2004, Burnett ran off a five-game winning streak and earned praise from former manager Lloyd McClendon for greatly upgrading the staff. Then his performance dropped off after developing irritation in his left elbow, and he underwent reconstructive surgery Sept. 22, 2004. The former first-round draft pick also needed left shoulder surgery while the elbow was healing.

Burnett was 8-11 with a 5.16 ERA for Indianapolis last season, struggling at times to locate his pitches while fighting with occasional stiffness in his elbow and shoulder. He has shown none of those problems this spring.

``He probably won't be in the minor leagues long, based on the competitor that he is and the way he is progressing,'' Littlefield said. ``It's very disappointing for him, but as an organization it gives us a good feeling he'll be ready to go soon if we have any problems in Pittsburgh.''

The left-handed Youman was considered a non-prospect a year ago, but the former Louisiana State pitcher worked his way into the Pirates' plans with an 11-2 record and a 2.29 ERA in 31 games at Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona last season. He was 0-2 with a 2.91 ERA in five Pirates games late last season. He had an 0.96 ERA in five games this spring.

Littlefield agreed with Tracy that cutting the staff is proving much more difficult than it did last year, when the Pirates' 4.55 ERA was ninth in the NL during a 67-95 season.

``We have a better group, a more ready-to-go major league group,'' Littlefield said. ``We've got some depth in the pitching and some quality there.''

The right-handed Gryboski pitched in 221 games with Atlanta from 2002-05, but has had control problems the last two seasons and was limited to six games with the Washington Nationals last year.