No player better captured the shock and frustration of Sean Burnett’s latest setback than Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, who learned from a reporter Wednesday that Burnett had suffered a season-ending tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.
“Again?” Frieri said, his voice filling with indignation. “That’s bad, man. It really stinks, because we need him. He’s one of those guys who can get left-handers out.
” feel bad for him because he worked so hard to get back, and for some reason, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.”
Burnett, in the second year of a two-year, $8-million contract, pitched in only 13 games in 2013 before being shut down May 28 because of a torn flexor tendon.
After several failed comeback efforts, he underwent surgery in August.
Burnett, 31, spent the off-season rehabilitating the elbow. He was slowed by an adverse reaction to an injection in March and by elbow pain in April before finally working his way into the Angels bullpen last weekend after a year-long absence.
The long road back turned out to be a dead end. In his third appearance, Burnett reinjured the elbow on a pitch that Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders popped to shortstop in the seventh inning Tuesday night.
Burnett returned to Southern California on Wednesday, an MRI test revealed the tear, and he was put on the disabled list. The left-hander will visit orthopedist James Andrews next week to determine whether he will undergo a second ligament-replacement surgery.
The eight-year veteran, who had a 2.76 earned-run average in 212 appearances for the Washington Nationals from 2010 to 2012, had his first ligament-replacement procedure in 2004. He also had shoulder surgery in 2005.
Burnett was so distraught Tuesday night he cut off a post-game interview after about 30 seconds.
“There’s a lot of frustration right now, I’m trying to stay positive, I’ll see what the doctor says tomorrow,” Burnett said before burying his face in a towel and fighting off tears as he walked away from reporters. “I can’t … “
Burnett’s Angels career is likely over — his deal includes a $4.5-million option for 2015 that the team will buy out for $500,000 — and a second elbow surgery could end his career.
However, fellow reliever Michael Kohn wouldn’t rule out another comeback for the resilient Burnett.
“This is not the last time you’ve seen Sean Burnett, he’s too good of a pitcher, too good of an athlete, to not be back,” Kohn said. “He’s not the type of guy to give up that easily. He has a strong passion for the game. He’s not going to leave on a note like that.”
Burnett, who made six appearances for double-A Arkansas before coming off the DL, said before the game Tuesday night that he “still wasn’t 100%,” but he felt he could “compete at this level and make the pitches I need to get guys out.
“You can’t reenact what a big league game is like, from the intensity to the quality of pitches you have to throw at this level. But with each outing, I’m slowly gaining confidence, making progress.”
That progress came to an abrupt halt Tuesday night, and now the Angels will have to make do without a left-handed relief specialist.
“Nothing comes easy in this game,” Frieri said. “To win, you have to go through things like this, guys who get hurt, guys who are struggling.
“We need to keep battling with the players we have.”