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Two surgeries behind him, ‘it’s go time’ for former White Sox first-rounder Zack Burdi

Manager Rick Renteria liked what he saw of Burdi’s first official sideline session of spring training.

Zack Burdi throws during a sideline session Thursday at White Sox spring training.
Zack Burdi throws during a sideline session Thursday at White Sox spring training.
Daryl Van Schouwen/Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Remember right-hander Zack Burdi? Of course, you do. First-round draft pick in 2016, 100 mph velocity, Downers Grove South kid, White Sox fan growing up.

While the rebuilding Sox were stocking their farm system with top prospects via trades and international signings, Burdi became something of an afterthought after having Tommy John and knee surgeries.

Now he’s back in major-league camp, feels 100 percent healthy and has a reasonable chance to make his big-league debut at some point this season. The Sox do have an open spot in the bullpen.

‘‘Coming out of spring [making the team] is going to be tough, and it’s a long shot,’’ Burdi said Thursday. ‘‘I have to put some [good outings] together, so, yeah, I’m going to put some pressure on the bullpen guys and show everyone I’m still here. That’s kind of my job: to just remind everyone that I’m back and I’m ready to compete again.’’

Burdi, 24, threw his first side session of spring training Thursday, and it had to feel good.

‘‘Exciting, it really is,’’ he said of being in big-league camp. ‘‘The last two years I’ve been on the [minor-league] side, knowing I wouldn’t be on this side, and it was all rehab. Then to get hurt again was pretty heartbreaking. For the White Sox to take a chance and protect me [on the 40-man roster] and get the invite to big-league spring training, it’s pretty surreal.’’

Burdi, whom the Sox selected 26th overall in 2016, had Tommy John surgery in July 2017 after averaging 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 29 games at Class AAA Charlotte. His comeback was set back when he dislocated his right knee while doing agility work in the outfield at Class AA Birmingham in June 2019. He would need a full medial patella-femoral ligament reconstruction.

‘‘It’s tough,’’ he said of dealing with two major injuries. ‘‘You have to play a lot of mental tricks on yourself. The whole ‘everything is meant to happen’ deal. . . . You’re looking in different directions for answers. At the end of the day, it’s just showing up, being positive, being happy, not complaining and knowing your role for that season.

‘‘The White Sox took a big chance on me in 2016 with that draft pick, and I owe it to them to give my all every single day, to recover my body and execute the plan they sought in ’16.’’

The velocity, which registered in the upper 90s last season at Birmingham, will be monitored. Burdi knows it matters.

‘‘It has to,’’ he said. ‘‘I can say all I want that it doesn’t, but almost 36 months out of [Tommy John surgery], there is no excuse. It’s go time.

‘‘I don’t know what it’s going to be. I haven’t faced live hitters yet with a [speed] gun. . . . But what we’re seeing in bullpens is encouraging and where I typically sit.’’

Manager Rick Renteria said he liked what he saw Thursday.

‘‘He looked good,’’ Renteria said of Burdi’s side session. ‘‘The ball was coming out of his hand, and he was around the zone more, hitting the spot more than I thought he would be at this point. A lot of life. He threw the ball well.’’