ANAHEIM -- After an injury-riddled season, a surgical procedure, a nine-month rehab and a frustrating setback, lefty reliever Sean Burnett finally returned on Friday night and retired the only batter he faced in his first Major League appearance in nearly in nearly a year.
"It's a special day for me," Burnett said before the Angels' 6-1 win over the Royals, during which he got the last out of the seventh inning by inducing an Eric Hosmer groundout to second base, "and a day I've been waiting for a long time. I'm excited, anxious to get back out there."
Burnett -- signed to a two-year, $8 million contract in December 2012 -- appeared in only 13 games last season before finally succumbing to elbow surgery in August, a procedure that saw Dr. James Andrews reopen the scar from Burnett's Tommy John surgery in 2004 and clean up residual scar tissue.
Burnett rehabbed all winter, started throwing bullpen sessions in Spring Training, had a bad reaction to a synvisc shot -- an injectable lubricant used to treat arthritis -- in late March, took a couple of steps back, then slowly worked his way into a rehab assignment with Double-A Arkansas, giving up three runs in his first appearance and then throwing five straight scoreless outings.
The 31-year-old's fastball sat mostly between 88 and 90 mph, which is about where he needs it to be.
"The biggest thing for me was the movement was there, the life was on the ball, and I was able to locate down in the zone and repeat it," Burnett said.
To activate Burnett off the disabled list, the Angels optioned first baseman/outfielder Efren Navarro to Triple-A Salt Lake, going back to the standard 13 position players and 12 relievers. Angels manager Mike Scioscia called Burnett "one of those guys that you don't realize what he brings until he's not here."
With Burnett -- 2.76 ERA, 1.23 WHIP with the Nationals from 2010-12 -- the Angels finally have a proven lefty reliever in a division with several menacing left-handed bats, one Scioscia can pair with Joe Smith and Ernesto Frieri in the back end of the bullpen.
Scioscia would like to get Burnett a low-leverage inning to get him re-acclimated, but said "if that game situation finds him tonight, he's going to be out there."
"I'm there physically," Burnett said. "It's just now the anxiousness and the nerves of getting back out there and doing it again for the first time in a big league mound. The stuff's there, and the action on the ball is where it needs to be. It's just controlling my emotions those first couple times out and not letting the excitement get to me."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less