For just a moment, A.J. Burnett got caught up in saying the thing he’s expected to say. After another round of questions about the rotation, and another series of questions about his struggles, Burnett was once again saying that Joe Girardi makes the decisions, and when the Yankees cut their rotation from five to six, Burnett won’t have a say in it.
“That’s out of my hands,” he said.
Then he stopped himself.
“It’s not out of my hands,” he said. “Let me rephrase that. It’s not out of my hands. I can definitely take this opportunity to change some minds, for sure.”
Burnett starts tonight, and the easy thing to do is write him off. In fact, there’s little reason to do anything but write him off. He’s been worse this season than he was last season, and last season seemed as bad as it could get.
“Believe it or not, I go out there every time with confidence,” he said. “It’s been an inning here or there, little things here or there. I do still believe in myself or else I wouldn’t be here. I don’t think I’m the type of person to waste my time or anybody else’s time, so I’m definitely still all about myself and still believe in myself, for sure.”
In the past week, Burnett has worked on eliminating some of the movement in his delivery, doing less with his hands in hopes of maintaining his arm slot. Yesterday, though, Burnett engaged in a discussion about learning to pitch with diminished velocity. He’s still pitching at 93, 94 — pretty good velocity for most pitchers — but that’s a big difference from 98, 99. It leaves him less room for error, especially up in the zone.
“I always said, this pitching is for the birds,” Burnett said. “But you know what, I’m a pitcher. So it ain’t for the birds. It’s for me. There’s times where I’m going to feel good so I can just rear back and let it loose and just throw it, but for the most part, I need to stay down in the zone more. I’ve been up. I’ve been thigh-high all year. Early in the year I was knee high and I was pitching, and just get back to that. It’s minor things, and I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t comfortable doing it.”
Bottom line, everyone involved knows Burnett’s situation. He’s been too bad to be reliable, but there’s still enough talent to wonder what might happen. Is tonight a big start for him?
“It ain’t as big as the ’09 World Series,” he said. “So I’m going to attack it as my next start. We made a lot of adjustments, Larry and I, and I’m just going to go at it with an open mind again. I’m not going to put added pressure on myself. My numbers ain’t going to get dramatically better no matter how good I pitch the rest of the year, so it’s not about the numbers, it’s about getting on track. And it starts first pitch of the game, first batter of the game.”
Here’s Burnett talking before last night’s game.