BRADENTON -- There was an Easter egg hunt in the outfield prior to A.J. Burnett's first regular-season start with his new organization.
In place of the Pittsburgh Pirates' trademark "P," Burnett wore a cursive "B" on his jersey and a smiling, eye-patch wearing skull on his cap.
This wasn't how Burnett or the Pirates figured his first start of the 2012 baseball season would go. But the 35-year-old righty was pleased after throwing 42/3 innings for the Bradenton Marauders on Friday night in front of 1,578 fans at McKechnie Field.
The Marauders lost 5-1 to the St. Lucie Mets, and Burnett was saddled with the defeat..
"I felt good. I got work in," Burnett said. "It was fun out there."
Not far from McKechnie is Pirate City, the Pirates'
sprawling minor-league complex where Burnett's first season in Pittsburgh got off to an ominous start. While participating in a bunting tournament days after Pittsburgh acquired him in a trade with the New York Yankees, Burnett fouled a ball of his face and broke a bone around his right eye. He underwent surgery in early March and didn't participate in Grapefruit League action, getting his work in during simulated and minor-league games instead.
Friday night was different. Burnett fired 67 pitches (43 strikes) against the Mets, striking out five, walking one and allowing a run on two hits while throwing an array of fastballs, curveballs and changeups.
Burnett covered first base while first baseman Alex Dickerson fielded three grounders and raised his arms after Marauders' shortstop Gift Ngoepe made a diving catch to rob St. Lucie's Richard Lucas of a fifth-inning hit.
"They had some good at-bats, and I had some great plays behind me, too," Burnett said. "Those guys played hard (Friday), and it was a good game all around."
Burnett walked Rafael Fernandez with two outs in the fifth and then allowed a run-scoring triple to Francisco Peña, bringing an end to his night. After receiving a warm ovation from the crowd, Burnett watched the Marauders hit during the bottom of the fifth and then spent the next 15 minutes signing autographs near the Marauders' clubhouse.
"It was amazing. It was a great experience to catch a big-leaguer," said Marauders catcher Carlos Paulino, "and that kind of big-leaguer, because he's a good pitcher.
"He's a nice person, it was easy to get close to him."
As many rehabbing major leaguers do, Burnett also sprung for dinner for his Bradenton teammates.
"We've got Chipotle coming," he said. "I asked around, and we had a few options, and that was the one that seemed to hit home. So we're going to have a bit of Mexican (Friday)."
Burnett was in Pittsburgh on Thursday to take part in the Pirates' Opening Day festivities. He hopes to be pitching with the Marauders' parent club soon. But he expects to make another start with the Marauders in about five days, and said he is ready to do whatever is necessary.
"I feel great. I'm not the person that's going to complain," Burnett said. "I'm going to let them know if I can go, and I'm going to let them know if I need more time. Everything feels good right now."