An emotional Sean Burnett knew the news wasn't likely to be good after leaving his appearance on Tuesday with renewed soreness in his left elbow. Burnett was making only his third appearance for the Los Angeles Angels in his return from season-ending elbow surgery last August. In fact, he'd only faced three batters in his comeback — one in each appearance — but the discomfort was unmistakable, and the reality of what he was likely facing had already set in when he met the media following the game.
“Lot of frustration right now,” Burnett said when approached by a scrum of reporters at the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field. “I’m trying to stay positive.”
According to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com, the 31-year-old left-hander had to walk away from the gathering moments later after tears welled up in his eyes. The thought of another long rehab — after bouncing back from Tommy John surgery in 2004 and returning from a follow up operation last season to clean up scar tissue — was overwhelming, and understandably so.
Unfortunately, it was also accurate. On Wednesday, the expected news was confirmed. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register first reported it on Twitter. The dreaded MRI revealed a torn UCL in Burnett's left elbow. His comeback and his season is over just that quickly. And the prospects of a second Tommy John surgery are now on the horizon.
That hurts, but it doesn't just hurt Burnett. It hurts those who were witness to the hard work he's put in, and it hurts those who saw how much it meant when he returned.
“He’s worked his [butt] off to get back to this point,” Angels ace Jered Weaver said. “He’s a great guy, man. He wants to go out there and he wants to help his team win. I know he’s very frustrated. Tough time for him right now.”
"When something like this happens to a player it's very disheartening," manager Mike Scioscia said. "No one works harder than Sean. No one wanted it more than Sean."
That means a lot coming from a manager who called on Burnett just 16 times in two years after he signed a two-year, $8 million deal before the 2013 season. Obviously, the Angels were counting on a lot more when the deal was finalized, but Burnett earned their collective respect simply by being a great teammate and by overcoming the obstacles placed in front of him.
Now, he'll be forced to clear a few more hurdles, but fellow reliever Michael Kohn feels Burnett will accept the challenge again and make another return.
"I'm pretty sure Sean is not the type of guy to give in that easy," Kohn said. "I know his mentality on the field. The guy has a very strong passion for baseball, the game in general. He's not going to leave on a note like that."
Burnett will likely gather more information before making a final decision on surgery. One thing that feels certain though is that his days with the Angels will be over once his contract expires in the offseason. Even still, he's going to have a lot of people in that organization rooting for him. And that support is likely to extend into other clubhouses as well.
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