- Last Updated: 4:21 AM, June 29, 2012
- Posted: 3:00 AM, June 29, 2012
PHILADELPHIA — A.J. Burnett is dealing. What a great deal this was for the Pirates.
Burnett has become the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him to that five-year, $82.5 million deal.
The day after the Yankees lost two huge pieces of their rotation — CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte — Burnett upped his record to 9-2 yesterday with Pittsburgh’s 5-4 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The victory was Burnett’s eighth straight, something no Pirates pitcher had done since Dock Ellis won eight straight in 1974.
Burnett was 21-26 and booed frequently in his last two years with the Yankees, but Burnett has found a home in his return to the National League, and the 40-35 Pirates — eying their first winning season since 1992 — are reaping the benefits.
“He’s loving every minute of it,’’ Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s the right fit at the right time for both parties.’’
Burnett turned the page on the Yankees — who are paying $20 million of the $33 million Burnett is owed this season and next — in spring training and has been moving forward ever since. He loves his new pitching life with Pittsburgh.
“This was a great day,’’ Burnett said. “This was a big win for us.’’
It’s a great season for Burnett, who was staked to a five-run lead in that first inning when Casey McGehee hit a three-run home run, followed by a solo blast by Pedro Alvarez.
“Anytime you get a lead like that, it takes the pressure off,’’ Burnett said. “I wanted to stay hard with them early and then get soft later on.’’
This A.J. Burnett had a game plan and stuck to it. Listen to these key words from Hurdle on the new A.J.:
“We can really be prepared for our future if we’ve paid attention to our past. I think he paid attention to his past. This opportunity is the right opportunity for him at the right time in his career and I think we are the right club. He’s been able to mentor. Our fan base has embraced him which is something new for him.’’
Yes, as Burnett has noted many times, life is different as a Pirate.
Burnett showed his leadership by praising young catcher Michael McKenry. Veteran Rod Barajas had been working exclusively with Burnett, but is sidelined by a bruised knee.
“I was really impressed with McKenry, he was outstanding all game,’’ Burnett said. “I only shook him [off] once or twice. I can’t say enough about him. Rod has an idea and McKenry picked up right where Rod left, so it was a great day.’’
This is a new Burnett in many ways, his hands start lower in his windup now and he is not throwing many changeups. It’s two-seamer, four-seamer, breaking ball and hard splits.
Noted a scout at the game: “Nasty stuff, much easier, more relaxed.’’
A big part of Burnett’s success is the way he has been handled by Hurdle, a one-time Met.
“I don’t have expectations,’’ Hurdle said. “I was a young player that a bunch of expectations were put on me. I have experience with that. The fact that A.J. has run off eight in a row, that’s significant. This was a big-time shut down performance.’’
Burnett went 62/3 innings, surrendering three runs on seven hits. On this blistering day he struck out seven and walked two, throwing 101 pitches. His ERA is 3.31 — and that’s inflated by a 12-run abomination in 22/3 innings in his third start of the year. Without that start, his ERA is 2.05.
“Sometimes you need a change. It’s nobody’s fault,’’ Hurdle said.
At the age of 35, and in his 14th big league season, A.J. Burnett has found a relaxed pitching home.