© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
03/16/09 4:00 PM ET
Reds' Burton aiming to return to form
Right-hander vying for Cincinnati's primary setup role
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mild-mannered Reds reliever Jared Burton doesn't put down hitters with atomic fire breath or create hurricanes with supersonic flight. Yet in praising his setup man, Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker compared Burton to the fictional monster that can do such things.
"Burton is very athletic and has great deception," Baker said. "You watch when he spreads out. He throws that glove at you and looks like Rodan."
Rodan used to do battle with Godzilla and other monsters in Japanese movies. Burton does battle with opposition hitters in the seventh and eighth innings. To them, he's been a rather tough pitcher to reckon with.
In his rookie season in 2007, Burton posted a 2.51 ERA in 47 appearances and emerged as the primary setup man for the Reds by midseason. Last season, Burton was 5-1 with a 3.22 ERA in 54 appearances and 58 2/3 innings.
Had he not missed 39 games with a strained latissimus muscle in his right side, the 27-year-old could have been even better. Even though ERA can be a deceptive statistic for relievers, this still was pretty telling. In 43 games before the injury, Burton had a 2.23 ERA. In 11 games after he returned from the disabled list, he had a 7.84 mark.
"That was tough. I was coming off of a good 2007, and then last year I got off to a great start before the All-Star break," Burton said. "I was on a roll, and then all of a sudden, something happened."
In a July game against the Nationals, Burton was on the mound when a disputed out call on a bunt enraged batter Paul Lo Duca. The argument created a lengthy delay in the game, and Burton didn't stay loose.
"Instead of playing catch with [Jeff] Keppinger or somebody at shortstop, I just stayed there," Burton said. "About the third pitch after that, I felt a strained, tired feeling in that lat area. I think that's what did it. It's the only thing I can explain."
It was a tough way to learn a lesson. Although the injury was minor, it lingered. And there were a few false starts in the rehab process in which the injury was aggravated.
"Before he went out with that weird injury, he was one of the best relief pitchers in the league," Baker said. "Some people were talking about him as an All-Star."
"I know if I can stay healthy, I can help this team a lot. We have a chance to do something special and have a fun year."
-- Reds reliever|
The Reds had the third-best bullpen ERA (3.81) in the National League in 2008, and the 'pen mostly is intact. Baker hasn't decided exactly who will be his main reliever in the eighth, but he has righties Burton, David Weathers, Mike Lincoln and lefties Arthur Rhodes and Bill Bray to choose from.
With the Reds hoping to have a stronger rotation this season, there is hope that the gap from starters to closer Francisco Cordero will require a shorter bridge. That could make everyone better.
"As long as we put up zeros, it doesn't matter how it unfolds," Burton said. "I know if I can stay healthy, I can help this team a lot. We have a chance to do something special and have a fun year."
In six Grapefruit League games this spring, Burton has allowed five earned runs and nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. All but two of the outings have been scoreless, and there is no concern among Burton or the Reds as he prepares for the season.
It's a vastly different scenario than Burton faced in Spring Training 2007, when he was a Rule 5 Draft pick trying to stick with the club or be offered back to the Athletics. Since then, Burton has become the type of steal for $50,000 teams hope they can land each year at the Winter Meetings.
"It's a little more relaxing this spring," Burton said. "My first spring, it was pretty much the biggest spring of my career. Last year was a new manager coming in. I wasn't nervous, but there was a sense I had to prove something to the new faces. This year, I don't want to say I have established my career yet, but I'm a little more relaxed. I'm able to enjoy myself and get ready for the season, rather than try to over-impress."