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Burnett: “I’m here to be a factor”

Tweet [1]

[2]There are A.J. Burnett’s words:

I’m a force out there. Guys don’t want to face me. I just felt like guys didn’t care if they faced me (last year). I feel like I gave them that edge… I came here to win. I came here to pitch. I came here to be behind Big Man. And I wasn’t last year.

First, it’s kind of cool that he calls CC Sabathia “Big Man” on first reference. Second, I can’t imagine the Yankees wanting to hear anything different from their erratic supposed-to-be-number-two starter. He managed to acknowledge that he was terrible in 2010, while also showing confidence for 2011.

“It’s a chicken and egg question,” new pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “Is the confidence there because of success or is success there because he’s doing things right mechanically and gets confidence? I think we’ll attack it right now to get him in line to the plate. Get him comfortable throwing the ball, and I think he’ll get the confidence and demeanor that he should have.”

Burnett talked a lot about confidence today. He talked about having it when he was pitching well, and losing it after his winless month of June. When he lost his confidence, Burnett started thinking too much. He went searching for advice that might put him back together, and pretty soon the pieces were scattered everywhere.

When Rothschild went to Burnett’s house this winter, the meeting started with a long conversation. Four or five hours of B.S., Burnett said. The actual lessons wer about taking a mental problem and making it physical, and about taking a physical problem and making it mental.

The theory is: If Burnett can mentally force himself to physically repeat his mechanics, then he’ll physically pitch better and feel better mentally. The cycle will build on itself.

“I like Larry,” Burnett said. “He’s old school. I’m old school. He’s not here to come change or fix a bunch of things. On the other hand, my lower half tends to swing out like a gate. It’s a matter of keeping that from over swinging.”

He made it sound so simple, and the exercises Rothschild gave him this offseason were about little more than repetition, about getting one leg to consistently fall in the same spot over and over again. It seems like such a small thing, but the Yankees are banking on the idea that, it snowballed one way last year, why couldn’t it snowball the other way this year?

“You look back and I wasn’t really a factor (last year),” Burnett said. “And I’m here to be a factor.”

Here’s Burnett.

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[4]And just for good measure, here are a few comments about bringing Burnett back from last season.

Brian Cashman: “I certainly hope it, believe it. He’s had a history of some really high times when he’s been extremely good, and then there have been some times when he hasn’t performed up to his abilities. Whenever he’s had some dips, he’s always bounced back. I count on that. He’s coming off his worst season, but he’s had some tough stretches before and he’s responded to it. He’ll respond. I believe that. Need him to, but I believe it (too).”

Joe Girardi: “There’s a few reasons I have confidence in A.J. (One), I’ve seen what he can do. Two, I know his heart, and I know how disappointed he was about some of his starts last year. I saw how it affected him… I know that until the season, until we see him pitch, it’s going to be asked a lot. But I’ve just got a feeling in my gut that he’s going to have a good year because of those reasons.”

Larry Rothschild: “It’s hard to say right now, but going into it, look, this guy’s had success at a pretty good level in the major leagues. We’re not trying to rebuild anything. We’re just trying to get it where he can repeat deliveries so he can throw the ball loose. This isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a rebuilding or anything. It’s just kind of tooling it back a little bit, and refining things, and simplifying.”

A.J. Burnett: “It got me depressed every time I thought about it, so I just stopped thinking about it. It’s in the past. I’ve had seasons before that were bad. You just have to come back. It will bury you if you don’t. Figure out a way to let it slide. I realize how important I was last year, for the first time in probably my whole career. It should be a little different.”

Associated Press photos