SEATTLE -- Fellow Angels reliever Michael Kohn communicated with Sean Burnett for most of the afternoon Wednesday, letting him know he was there for him and providing any encouragement he could muster. At one point Kohn shot Burnett a text regarding Jason Isringhausen, the one-time Angels reliever who underwent Tommy John surgery three times and wound up pitching 16 years in the big leagues.
"He sent me a little text back saying, 'I'll have two and I'm going to pitch for 15,'" Kohn said, shortly after it was revealed that Burnett had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, an injury that typically results in Tommy John surgery and a 12- to 18-month recovery.
"This is not the last time you see Sean Burnett," Kohn added. "He'll be back somehow, someway, some form. He's too good of a pitcher, too good of an athlete, not to be back."
Burnett will have to make that decision on his own, though, and will probably do so when he meets with Dr. James Andrews early next week.
First he'll have to get through the reality of what took place Tuesday night.
Burnett was three appearances into a nine-month rehabilitation from elbow surgery when he threw a 1-2 changeup to Michael Saunders that resulted in a popout to shortstop and will probably be the last pitch he throws in his Angels career. The 31-year-old lefty motioned to the dugout, was removed from the game, and afterwards was too distraught to address a scrum of reporters.
"I was watching him throw and he looked good," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He had sink on the ball, he was on top, there was no manipulation. He was free and easy, he had plenty of time to warm up, didn't overthrow any of his pitches down there. He warmed up great, felt great, felt like that was the best he had been throwing since coming all the way back. But you never know in this game."
Burnett flew back to Southern California, where an MRI revealed what he already dreaded. The Angels placed Burnett on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, calling up right-hander Matt Shoemaker so he can start Thursday.
Burnett had Tommy John surgery in 2004, dealt with elbow discomfort in 2007 and had bone spurs removed from his left elbow after the 2012 season, just before signing a two-year, $8 million contract with the Angels in November.
With the Nationals from 2010-12, Burnett posted a 2.76 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP while compiling 212 appearances.
With the Angels, he was mostly rehabbing.
"When he was with Washington, he was nasty," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We never got to see that part of it with Sean, but you saw the good sink. And he was close."
In 2013, Burnett made two separate trips to the DL, appeared in only 13 games and didn't pitch past late May, after suffering a torn flexor tendon that required surgery that August. Burnett has spent this year working his way back, suffering a temporary setback after a bad reaction to a shot in late March and then gradually working through a rehab assignment before being activated Friday.
Burnett's return lasted all of three batters.
The Angels hold a $4.5 million club option on Burnett for 2015, but are likely to simply buy him out for $500,000 at the end of the season.
"It's just unfortunate," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "You never want to see a guy getting hurt, especially a guy who's working extremely hard, for a very long period of time, to get back on the field.
"He kept having setback after setback, and issue after issue, and it just kept going and going. He had normal human reactions along the way, but didn't let it deter him by any stretch of the imagination. He just kept going, and I'm sure he's going to do the same thing with this one. I'm sure his desire to be out on the field is high, even with all these setbacks. A lot of people, this would've broken them. Not him."
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.