He has been on the disabled list nine times — nine times! — since 2000. The Marlins threw him off the team at the end of the 2005 season because he was a punk. Burnett once threw a no-hitter and walked nine guys. He has two pitches, or two fewer than you would like a starter to have.
What comes to mind when you think of Burnett? Tattoos and a scowl. He’s only 11 games over .500 in his career. He has never pitched an inning in the playoffs.
I was with you. I thought the Yankees should have invested their money in Derek Lowe. Get the safe, healthy guy with the good sinker.
But I’m starting to come around on Burnett.
In the two games he has pitched in spring training — and, yes, I know it’s spring training — he has been so efficient with his pitches that he had to go to the bullpen to finish up his work. After years of trying to throw the wall through the wall, he has embraced the idea of getting an easy grounder to second.
Burnett also has been a clubhouse ringleader of inclusion, peppering Andy Pettitte with questions, hanging out with CC Sabathia and quickly becoming somebody Joe Girardi listens to.
“I didn’t know him at all before and I heard the same things everybody else did,” Sabathia said. “But we talked all winter and since we’ve gotten here, we’ve become pretty tight.”
Burnett, at 32, has come to realize that he’s at a stage in his career where he will either accomplish something or go down in history as one of those guys with a magic arm and an empty head.
Does that translate into 33 starts, a bunch of wins and a tremendous presence in the middle of the rotation? That is what the Yankees are banking on. But until we get into the season, Burnett remains a question mark.
“I know what people think and I can’t blame them,” he said. “But I think I changed about two years ago.”
As for the two pitches, Burnett really has more. Along with his hard, biting curveball, he throws his fastball anywhere from 92, 93 to 97 and 98. He has learned to spot his heater to both sides of the plate and he saves his energy to really bring it when he needs it in the mid innings. Given their poor defense, a strikeout pitcher is just what the Yankees needed.
“Last year when we faced him, he was still dialing it up in the seventh inning,” Johny Damon said. “He’s a different pitcher than he used to be. He doesn’t get rattled and give up that big inning.”
Joba Chamberlain, who marvels at Burnett’s arm, put it pretty well the other day.
“If A.J. is our No. 3 starter, we’re going to be pretty good,” he said.