Nov 21, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals’ bullpen may have been their biggest weakness in 2015, but it hasn’t always been that way. In 2012, when they led the majors with 98 wins and won the NL East, it was one of their biggest strengths. They had balance, depth and firepower top to bottom in what amounted to one of the game’s best relief units.
Sean Burnett was a big part of that. A lefty with experience and a deceptive release point, Burnett thrived with the Nationals for four seasons. But in 2012 he was particularly effective, when he held a 2.38 ERA in 70 appearances and pitched well down the stretch of a pennant race. That earned him a two-year free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
In the time since, Burnett has yet to regain the form he had in 2012 with the Nats. Elbow injuries forced him to have Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career in May of 2014.
The Nationals, though, are giving Burnett a chance for a comeback. They signed him to a minor league deal this week with hope the 33-year-old veteran can be a diamond in the rough.
“We took a low-risk opportunity to see what we have in Sean Burnett,” GM Mike Rizzo said. “Sean Burnett had a couple of really harsh arm injuries since he left us. He pitched great for us. We loved the personality, we loved the stuff. He was a terrific piece of our bullpen.”
Rizzo met with Burnett late last season at Marlins Park when the Nationals were playing in Miami.
“I saw him last year when we were playing in Miami. He and I got together and then we had a scout go out there and see how he was rehabbing. He looked like he was throwing the ball free and easy. The surgery went well, the Tommy John went well. He’s been through that before so he knows how to rehab that,” he said.
Burnett had a 2.81 ERA in 245 appearances with the Nats from 2009 through 2012. He has only appeared in 16 total games since 2012, having missed the entire 2015 season. Though it is a ‘low-risk’ move, it is still a risk. But Rizzo is confident in what Burnett brings to the table as a guy trying to revive his career.
“We know what the guy is going to give us on the mound and that’s 100 percent. We’ll see where he’s at physically because if he’s anywhere near the Sean Burnett that we had physically, then we know what we have character-wise and mentally. He’s as good as it gets,” he said.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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