Burnett returns home for Opening Day

Burnett returns home for Opening Day

ANAHEIM -- When Twins Minor League pitching coordinator Eric Rasmussen informed right-hander Alex Burnett on Saturday that he would not be starting the year at Triple-A Rochester, Burnett's first thought was that he had gotten demoted.

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Having already been through a similar situation last year, when Rasmussen let him know that the Twins were sending him back to Class A Fort Myers and moving him into a relief role, Burnett couldn't help but think that he was headed back to Double-A New Britain. Instead, Burnett was told that he was on a flight to Anaheim to join the Major League club for Opening Day.

"Instantly when he said that, I thought he was kidding around with me and my heart started beating really fast," Burnett said while standing by his locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Angel Stadium. "I was just like, 'Is this an April Fools' joke? I thought this was a couple days ago.'"

With Clay Condrey having been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain, Burnett is getting the rare opportunity in the Twins' organization -- heading to the Majors without having spent any time in Triple-A. Burnett finished last season in New Britain where he went 1-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 40 appearances (55 1/3 innings).

"It's not something we do every day," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "We believe that every level of our Minor League system has a purpose. Most players need that. But right now, Alex Burnett is probably the best person to fill the role we're looking to fill."

The opportunity is also unique for Burnett, 22, in that he gets a chance to begin his Major League career in the place he was born -- Anaheim. Burnett flew in on Sunday afternoon and was picked up at the airport by his mom, his three-year-old sister and a couple other family members. He said that he plans to have a big group of family in attendance for Monday's opener against the Angels.

Burnett gave up three runs in four innings of work this spring before being sent to the Minor League camp. He throws a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, and says that his stuff has gotten better since shifting to a relief role. Manager Ron Gardenhire said the coaching staff was pleased with what they saw from Burnett during his time in camp.

"We talked about this out of Spring Training if people got hurt, using this guy because he's a guy that has a great arm," Gardenhire said. "The ball comes out of his hand pretty good.... Burnett was throwing as good as anyone at the end of last year. He was talked about at the end of last year."

With Burnett arriving in Anaheim, the Twins' 25-man roster for their Opening Night contest against the Angels is finalized.

The Twins went with 12 pitchers as expected, and Saturday's decision to place Condrey on the DL and recall Burnett was the final piece to the puzzle. Earlier in the week, the Twins decided to go with Drew Butera as their backup catcher over top prospect Wilson Ramos. Alexi Casilla, who was out of options, also earned the final spot on the bench.

Here is the breakdown of the Opening Day roster:

Pitchers (12): Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Alex Burnett, Jesse Crain, Brian Duensing, Matt Guerrier, Francisco Liriano, Jose Mijares, Pat Neshek, Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch, Kevin Slowey

Catchers (2): Drew Butera, Joe Mauer

Infielders (6): Alexi Casilla, J.J. Hardy, Brendan Harris, Orlando Hudson, Justin Morneau, Nick Punto

Outfielders (4): Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Denard Span, Delmon Young

Designated hitter (1): Jim Thome

Disabled list (2): Catcher Jose Morales and Condrey will also start the year on the 15-day disabled list.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.