Burnett recovering quickly from major surgery

MIAMI -- A.J. Burnett could be in the Florida Marlins'
pitching rotation when the season starts. The right-hander is recovering
more quickly than expected from reconstructive surgery on his right

Burnett is tentatively scheduled to throw off a mound for the
first time Thursday, and he expects to pitch in spring training for
the World Series champions, starting around the second week of March.

Burnett made only four appearances last season before he
underwent surgery April 29 to repair a fully torn ulnar collateral

The 27-year-old pitcher was told not to expect to pitch again
for 12 to 18 months. But he was examined two weeks ago by his
orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, and received a glowing

"I'm still taking the conservative approach right now,"
Burnett said. "Everything depends on how the arm reacts. But when
Dr. Andrews said that, it just kind of reassured me that the elbow
is fixed. It's strong."

The Marlins are handling Burnett cautiously and aren't counting
on a return early in the season, which leaves the last spot in the five-man rotation open for the time being.

Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano and Dontrelle Willis are set to

After coming off a 12-9 campaign in 2002, Burnett was expected
to assume the role of staff leader for the 2003 season. But while
making his fourth start on April 25, he threw 111 pitches in only 5
2/3 innings.

After the outing, Burnett had the arm examined and tests showed ligament damage to his right elbow, prompting the sugery four days later.