Originally written on The Nats Blog  |  Last updated 6/4/12
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For Washington Nationals' lefty specialist Sean Burnett, the 2011 season was classified as a disappointment.  Coming off the best season of his young career with a brand new two-year $3.7 million contract extension, Burnett underperformed everyone’s expectations, which he had set for himself the year before.  In 69 games and 56.2 innings of relief, he accumulated a relatively weak 3.81 ERA and 1.324 WHIP.  He also struck out only 33 batters while walking 21.

His biggest problem though, was runners in scoring position.  In 60 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Burnett gave up 33 huge runs and 21 hits, leading to a horrible .350 batting average against.  He also walked seven for a .423 on-base percentage against. To make matters even worse, with two outs and runners in scoring positions, batters were hitting an astounding .406 with 13 hits in 32 at bats.  These stats for a late inning, high-pressure pitcher made the Nationals and their fans nervous to see Burnett pitch with any chance of giving up runs, but no one gave up on him.  Davey Johnson continued to give Burnett a consistent amount of appearances into the end of the 2011 season despite his problems and once again his potential shone through.  During the last two months of the season, Burnett held an ERA of just over one.

Coming into the 2012 season, Burnett knew he had something to prove and hasn’t let anyone down.  Coming into yesterday’s game, in 15.2 innings, he has allowed only one run, leading to an extremely low 0.57 ERA.  He has also struck out 19 while only walking six.  His most amazing improvement though, has been made to his biggest problem last year.  In 26 at bats with runners in scoring position, batters are hitting .115 and Burnett has struck out 14.  He has also held batters to a .071 batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs.

These stats have renewed both his confidence and the team’s confidence in him.  Davey Johnson has put Burnett in the highest-pressure situations this year, and he has been spectacular.  His outing on May 21 truly defines this season.  After Henry Rodriguez wildly failed to complete a save against the Phillies, Burnett was called to save the game with two outs to go and runners on second and third.  Burnett got a sac fly from Ty Wigginton and then walked Hector Luna before silencing the crowd with a line out to second to save the game.

Even though it’s only a little over 50 games into the season, it’s clear that Sean Burnett has come back into his 2010 form, if not better.  He has definitely made the biggest improvements of any player and has earned my early 2012 award of comeback player of the year.  If he keeps this up, he has the chance of winning the Rolaid’s Relief Man Award at the end of the season, something the franchise hasn’t won since 1985.

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