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Pitcher progressing post-Tommy John surgery

MIAMI -- Florida Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett took
another step in his recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery when
he threw off a mound Thursday for the first time in nine months.

Burnett, who had liagament-replacement surgery April 28, said
his rehabilitation is going so well that he hopes to rejoin
Florida's rotation when the season starts.

"I'm not going to rush it, but in a perfect world I could be
ready by then," Burnett said after throwing 23 fastballs at 75
percent of his usual velocity in the Marlins bullpen at Pro Player
Stadium.

"Today it went nice and easy. Nothing hurts. But I'm looking at
the big picture. I'm ready to strike somebody out."

Burnett hasn't pitched since April 25 and hasn't won a game
since August 2002. Team officials didn't rule out the possibility
that he'll be ready to join the rotation when the team leaves
spring training but said May is a more likely target.

"He is a power pitcher. He needs to be comfortable and
obviously pain-free and also build up his stamina and strength,"
general manager Larry Beinfest said. "We always thought early- to
mid-May was really an optimistic target for him. But I've also said
in the past that if there's ever a guy to come back early from
this, it's an A.J.-type guy."

Burnett went 12-9 in 2002, when he led the major leagues with
five shutouts. He went 0-2 last season with a 4.70 ERA in four
starts before being sidelined with a torn ulnar collateral ligament
in his right elbow.

He began throwing exercises in September and watched from the
bench as his teammates won the World Series.

Burnett, who turned 27 on Jan. 3, has been working out every
day, mainly with soft tosses and weight training. Beinfest said
there are no plans yet to have Burnett pitch in spring training
games.

"We are not going to rush A.J. Burnett," Beinfest said. "He's
a young player with a great future ahead of him and there's
absolutely no reason to rush him."