MIAMI -- Sean Burnett, who has pitched brilliantly for the Nationals as their primary setup man this season, has been bothered by tightness in his left elbow for about six weeks.
Burnett does not believe the discomfort is serious, and he even hopes to be available to pitch in tonight's game against the Marlins. Manager Davey Johnson espoused a more cautious approach and even suggested the disabled list is a "big consideration" for the left-hander.
"He's too valuable to us to take a chance," Johnson said. "The thing that concerns me is, he had four days off at the All-Star break, and he's having a little problem over there. But from what I gather, it's been bothering him for some time. So I don't really know what to think about it, other than to give him some rest."
Burnett, who faced one batter in Friday night's win and struck him out, said his arm actually feels better when he pitches and believes the issue is merely muscle tightness. He played catch in the outfield today during batting practice.
"Just something that's been lingering for a few weeks now," he said. "It hasn't gotten any worse, it just hasn't gotten any better. I feel fine pitching. There's no discomfort with that."
Burnett had Tommy John surgery on the elbow in 2004, but insisted what he feels now is not the same as what he felt back then.
"If you've ever dealt with that stuff, it makes you start to sweat just thinking about it," he said. "But when you have an elbow problem, you don't want to throw. It feels like the more I throw, the better it gets. Hopefully there's no story and in a couple of days it'll be better."
For now, it sounds like the Nationals plan to give Burnett the rest of this series off, then have him examined Tuesday in Washington by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih.
With Drew Storen nearly ready to return from his own elbow surgery, the Nationals will need to clear a spot in their bullpen within days. Though Johnson said Burnett's situation won't be tied in with that decision, the manager did reiterate the importance of having his top left-handed reliever healthy for the stretch run.
"He's having a great year and he's too valuable to us as my setup guy," Johnson said. "You don't want to take a chance with him."