When the team inked the right-hander to a five-year, $55 million deal in December, he underwent an MRI that revealed no ill effects from the elbow ligament replacement surgery he had in 2003. After that, Burnett had another MRI for insurance purposes that displayed the same thing.
During Spring Training with the Jays, Burnett injured his elbow and landed on the disabled list, but a third MRI showed that scar tissue -- leftover from his operation -- was the root of the problem. On Friday, the right-hander hurt his elbow again and left Toronto's game against the Red Sox after four innings.
Dr. James Andrews, the orthropedic surgeon who peformed Tommy John surgery on Burnett three years ago, confirmed that Burnett's recent flare up, which put him on the DL a second time, had nothing to do with any significant damage to the ligament.
All of these doctors visits and thorough exams prompted Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi to question what exactly Burnett was feeling. On Tuesday, Ricciardi said he thought the pitcher may be fighting a mental block, as well as the minor physical issues.
"Honestly, I think it's more so in his mind than it is medically," Ricciardi said on Tuesday. "This is two MRIs in the last month that have showed the same thing. Three doctors that have looked at his elbow and said the same thing. So, there is a consensus there about the structure of the elbow."
Burnett was back with the team on Wednesday and waited until after the game against Baltimore to offer his reply to Ricciardi's comments.
"That's his opinion and I'm going to respect whatever he says," Burnett said. "I'll take it as, I need to get over this hump and I need to know that MRIs have shown my ligament is intact -- doctors have shown it's intact. Yeah, there's something going on in there, but as far as the ligament itself, there's nothing wrong with it as far as being structurally well. That's what he's talking about.
"I don't think J.P. questions anybody. He's here to win ball games and he wants me out there."
The fact remains, though, that Burnett did feel something in his arm during his last start against the Red Sox on Friday. Sometime between the third and fourth inning, his right elbow began to ache and he had to pull himself out of the game.
As far as he's concerned, that wasn't something that was in his mind.
"He's just speaking his mind, and that's true, a lot of it is mental. Coming back from this is going to be a lot more mental than physical," Burnett said. "But what I was throwing with was not mental. It was pain. When the pain goes out, I just have to get it in my head that I am well and I am ready to go again."
When exactly Burnett will resume throwing again remains up in the air. On Tuesday, Toronto manager John Gibbons said that it could be a couple weeks before the team wants Burnett to even pick up a baseball.
After he suffered the original injury in Spring Training on March 18, it took nearly a month for Burnett to get back onto the mound for Toronto. He made two rehabilitaion starts with Class A Dunedin, but didn't start for the Blue Jays until the fourth series of this season.
Burnett didn't sound like he was in any rush to get back onto the field, especially since the pain flared up after coming back the first time around.
"I have no timetable. I wish I could tell you, but I can't," Burnett said. "We're going to rest it, and we're going to rest it, and we're going to rest it. When I pick it up, we're going to pick it up slow."
"Last time it happened, it felt good a week later, but I have to just take my time with it," he added. "No matter how good I feel, I have to just take that extra day. It's been mentioned to me, and I know for a fact, that I'm needed down the road as opposed to now. So however long it takes."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less