Last Thursday, A.J. Burnett had his third awful start in a row coming out of the All-Star break. He said he felt fine and wasn’t injured. After the trade deadline passed on Friday, it was revealed that Burnett had elbow inflammation and was placed on the 15-day DL, presumably done to give cover to GM Neal Huntington in an attempt to find a replacement for Burnett without word getting out about Burnett’s injury.
The worst possible news was feared, as elbow inflammation is sometimes a precursor to needing Tommy John surgery, which would have ended A.J. Burnett’s season and, effectively, his career. But on this past Monday, Burnett’s MRI came back devoid of a ligament tear and revealed just a strained flexor tendon.
Burnett received a PRP injection and was sent on his way to rest for approximately four weeks. At this point, many of you may be asking, “What’s PRP?”
PRP stands for Platelet Rich Plasma and is a relatively modern medical technique used to help speed the healing process along. The procedure involves extracting platelets from the patient ?s own blood via a vein. This blood is taken out and put in a centrifuge in order to concentrate the platelets for extraction and separate them from other factions of blood cells. Platelets help to stimulate a healing response in normal blood. By injecting concentrated amount of platelets it can help accelerate the healing process.
PRP injections, as you can probably guess, are not cheap. The typical cost for a single injection is around $800, as per this orthopedic surgeon’s website in Florida. The jury is still out in the medical community about the long-term effectiveness of PRP. A group of French doctors ran a test study on 44 people with tennis elbow (a tendon irritation, not dissimilar to what Burnett has). Half of the patients received two injections of PRP, four weeks apart. The other half got two similarly spaced injections of just saline. After one year, the PRP group showed no significant difference in pain relief than the saline group.
But the Pirates don’t need Burnett to be free of pain one year from now. At this time next year, Burnett will probably be the most intimidating little league coach in suburban Baltimore. They need him pain free by the end of August so that Burnett can be eligible for the postseason roster (although there are loopholes to that August 31st rostering date revolving around DL time) and help them in September down the stretch.
Back in 2013, Jason Grilli also had a strained flexor tendon in his forearm and was out from July 22nd to September 4th. He was shaky upon his return and temporarily lost his closer job to Mark Melancon, until the last week of the season.
Barring an August trade, the Pirates potential postseason rotation of Cole-Liriano-healthy Burnett is much better looking than Cole-Liriano-Morton/Locke. So let’s hope that through a combination of modern medical science and sheer determination on Burnett’s part to not have his career end in this fashion that he can come back and give the Pirates a healthy 3rd starter come October.