Almost an Oriole, Burnett at his best

NL notebook

Baseball Week

August 28, 2005

It may be painful for Orioles fans to hear, but it is worth noting.

There may be no pitcher in the National League as hot as the Florida's Marlins' A.J. Burnett right now.

Burnett was nearly traded to the Orioles in July along with third baseman Mike Lowell for outfielder Larry Bigbie, relievers Jorge Julio and Steve Kline and top pitching prospect Hayden Penn. But that deal fell through, partially because Orioles management felt Burnett would not sign a long-term deal here without first testing the open market.

Since the trade talk heated up, though, Burnett has been scalding -- 7-2 with a 2.14 ERA in nine starts. In his five August games, the 28-year-old right-hander is 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA.

You can almost hear the cash register ringing. Burnett could command a free-agent bounty similar to his buddy, Carl Pavano, who signed a four-year, $39.95 million deal with the New York Yankees last offseason.

But he said the pending riches are not what have elevated his game.

"I'm motivated to go to the World Series," said Burnett, who missed Florida's 2003 World Series championship because of elbow surgery. "I got motivated when I heard I was getting traded. Whether they shopped me or not ... I felt that they felt they could win here without me again. So I decided I wanted to win here."

Griffey a lock

Major League Baseball, which is officially sanctioning the Comeback Player of the Year Award for the first time, announced the six candidates from each league last week.

In the National League, it should be no contest. The Cincinnati Reds' Ken Griffey Jr. has finally stayed healthy and has eclipsed the 30-homer plateau for the first time since 2000. After all his struggles, he deserves the accolades.

Zimmerman can pick it

A scout who has seen Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals' first-round pick this year, play at Double-A Harrisburg said the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has enough athleticism and range to play shortstop in the majors this year.

The organization switched Zimmerman, normally a third baseman, to shortstop recently with hopes he can spell disappointing Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman in September. The scout said Zimmerman, 21, possesses a smooth batting stroke, but predicts he'll struggle to hit better than .220 if he is thrust into a pennant race just three months removed from college. Still, .220 would be an improvement on Guzman.

Quick hits

Philadelphia closer Billy Wagner, a pending free agent, wants a three-year deal with a no-trade clause before he re-signs with the Phillies. The team is offering a two-year deal ... Bigbie batted just .237 with no homers in 15 games with the Colorado Rockies before hitting the disabled list with a strained Achilles' tendon. But the Rockies still consider him an option to fill their vacant center field hole in 2006 ... Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, 21, was the cover story/photo in last week's Sports Illustrated. Atlanta's Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz have never had an SI cover story.

League notebooks are compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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