Pirates' pitcher out 2-3 months with broken face

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Pirates' pitcher out 2-3 months with broken face

From Comcast SportsNetBRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Newly acquired Pittsburgh pitcher A.J. Burnett is expected to miss two to three months while recovering from surgery for a facial fracture, forcing the Pirates to rearrange their plans for opening day. The Pirates had hoped Burnett would be able to start April 5 in the opener at home against Philadelphia. Pittsburgh got the 35-year-old righty on Feb. 19 from the New York Yankees in a trade for two minor leaguers and cash. Burnett had surgery Friday in Pittsburgh for a broken orbital bone near his right eye. He was injured when he fouled a ball off his face Wednesday during a bunting drill. A day after the trade, Burnett had said he looked forward to a fresh start with the Pirates. "It's going to be fun. I'm going back to the National League, where I can hit and bunt and get the joy back into the game," he said then. The Pirates said the injury didn't affect Burnett's vision and that there was no impingement to the muscles and nerves around his eye. Burnett will return to Bradenton for his recovery. "The initial step will be to heal from the surgery," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Secondly, we will recondition his arm and body to where he was prior to the injury. Lastly, we will put A.J. through the same progression as he would have gone through here in spring training." "The very rough timetable to complete this process and have A.J. prepared to compete without restrictions at the major league level is eight to 12 weeks," he said. The Pirates got Burnett and about 20 million from the Yankees to help cover his hefty salary. Burnett was due to make 33 million total over the next two seasons. Burnett was 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA during three seasons with the Yankees, including 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last year. He led the major leagues with 25 wild pitches last year and allowed a career-high 31 homers. The tattooed pitcher was wild off the field, too, known for pelting Yankees teammates in the face with cream pies following game-winning hits. Minus Burnett, the Pirates' rotation includes newly signed Erik Bedard and holdovers James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Jeff Karstens. Charlie Morton is recovering from hip surgery in October and might not be ready by opening day. He is scheduled to throw batting practice Saturday and might pitch in a "B" game on Wednesday. The Pirates will open the exhibition season on Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.