PITTSBURGH - A.J. Burnett said he has nothing but fond memories of his time in Pittsburgh. He hopes Pirates fans feel the same way.
Burnett will start for the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, facing his protege, Jeff Locke.
It's an intriguing story line for the homestand finale.
"It's special for both of us," Burnett said in the Phillies dugout before Friday's 8-2 Pirates victory.
Burnett said he had only good feelings about returning to the city where he pitched for the previous two seasons. He got to the ballpark early and spent time visiting with some of his former Pirates teammates. Earlier in the day, he and Locke went to lunch downtown
"It's always good to come back, that's for sure," Burnett said.
Burnett was a fan favorite in his two seasons with the Pirates because of his success on the mound and his focused approach to the game.
The ending was sour, though. Burnett threw a fit when he found out he was being bypassed in favor of Gerrit Cole for the deciding game of the playoff series against St. Louis, and he spent a long time weighing the Pirates' offer for 2014.
Cole didn't address the playoff issue, but said the delay in deciding what to do was a result of his uncertainty about retiring.
The Pirates did not make him a qualifying offer, which would have been a potential cost of $14 million. They offered somewhere between $10 million and $12 million. Burnett signed with the Phillies for $16 million, a contract that also includes an option for an additional season.
Burnett said he chose Philadelphia because it was reasonably close to his Maryland home.
"(The Pirates) were very respectful and very professional," Burnett said. "I had no idea what I wanted to do, and they were an organization trying to make a decision not only on me, but on their future. It had to be tough on them to wait (for) me. The way it was handled, there was a lot of respect on both parties."
There have been rumors lately that the Pirates' quest for veteran pitching help could lead to an interest in reacquiring Burnett. The rumors may be of dubious credibility, considering Burnett's age, the fact that he's close to triggering the player option on a 2015 contract and the notion that Clint Hurdle always found Burnett to be a handful.
Burnett brushed off the reports saying, "I don't have any thoughts on it. I can't predict the future."
Burnett is 5-7 with the last-place Phillies and has a 3.92 earned run average. Despite dealing with a hernia injury, he leads the team in starts and innings.
"It's manageable," he said of the injury.
Burnett said he had fond memories of his time in Pittsburgh, where he got his career back on track after some tough seasons with the New York Yankees. He said his top memory was helping to break the streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons.
How will fans react when he takes the field on Sunday as a member of the Phillies?
"Mixed maybe?" Burnett said. "If they boo they still care. I know everywhere I went here today, it was nothing but positive."
If things had ended differently, there would be no doubt Burnett would get a positive reaction.
"With me it's all between the lines," he said. "When the city realized I give everything I have when I'm between the lines, that's all they care about. They want somebody out there who really cares, not only about winning but about the team and Pittsburgh."
How does he feel about facing Locke?
"I wouldn't want it any other way," Burnett said.
Byrd flies back
Marlon Byrd, who had a major impact on the Pirates during the stretch run and postseason, also returned with the Phillies.
The Pirates did not pursue Byrd in the offseason, knowing that Gregory Polanco would be along to claim right field.
"Great fans, great city," Byrd said of Pittsburgh. "They love their teams. They know what I did here and they appreciate it."
His take on Polanco?
"Impressive," Byrd said. "If people didn't understand at the time why the Pirates didn't sign me back, I think they know now that he was ready."
Ready to go
Francisco Liriano will make a rehab start for Class AAA Indianapolis on Monday. He is on a limit of 85 pitches. Liriano has been out since June 10 with a strained oblique muscle.