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Sweeny Says: The Good A.J. Burnett

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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Sweeny Murti
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When CC Sabathia pitches badly in spring training the overwhelming reaction is to not read too much into it. He’s CC Sabathia and it’s March. As the late great Frank Drebin might say, “Nothing to see here. Please disperse.”

But when A.J. Burnett has a good outing do the same rules apply? Burnett threw 3 perfect innings Monday against the Phillies. And considering how badly things went last year, do we read anything into this? I’d have to say Yes and No.

It’s great that Burnett threw well and felt as good as he did, because if he didn’t we’d have absolutely zero reason to believe he could pitch well this season. Of course, Burnett pitched well last spring and the first two months of last season as well before Bad A.J. squashed out Good A.J. But as long as things go reasonably well this spring there is hope that Burnett has left last season behind.

Perhaps helping Burnett get over 2010 is the fact that the two people he will work most closely with in 2011 are brand new additions—Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild and catcher Russell Martin.

Rothschild has already made a difference in Burnett’s delivery, keeping him more in line to the plate and allowing him to throw strikes more consistently. Martin caught Burnett in a game for only the first time on Monday, but after helping him go once through the order perfectly Martin had nothing but high praise:

Burnett is the key to the Yankee rotation. With him they are three strong with less reliance on the fourth and fifth starters. Without him they are “CC and Hughes and…For the Next Three Days Hit Snooze?”

It’s hard for me to believe A.J. Burnett will be as bad as he was last year. I find it a little hard to believe he will go 0-33 with a 5,000,000.00 ERA, as most Yankee fans seem to believe he will. I won’t tell you he’s going to win 20, but for now we have to have a little faith that Good A.J. is still in there somewhere, waiting to wrestle Bad A.J. to the death.

So what do Burnett’s spring training outings mean? March still doesn’t mean anything, but when you’re searching for positives for a guy who needs them badly, it’s really all you have to go on.

*Eric Chavez went 3 for 3 Monday against the Phillies. He’s now 8-for-17 this spring. It’s pretty clear the Yankees really want him to fill a bench spot, backing up first and third base. Here’s Joe Girardi’s assessment of Chavez to this point of spring training:

*Eduardo Nunez hit a home run Monday, showing you one big thing that separates him from Ramiro Pena as a backup middle infielder.

*The superlatives have been flowing for 19-year old Manny Banuelos this spring, but here are two I picked up recently. One from a scout who watched his last two outings: “He’s the Yanks second best pitcher right now (behind Sabathia).”

Meanwhile, I’ve had three different baseball men tell me Banuelos reminds them of Ron Guidry with a smoother delivery. I stopped Guidry in the clubhouse Monday morning to ask him what he thought of Banuelos and the first words out of his mouth were, “He looks like me!”

*Finally, another sign that Jesus Montero is getting ready for the big leagues sooner rather than later. Montero was sitting by his locker Monday morning studying something very intently. I walked over to see what it was. Turned out it was a handout given to all the players to help them get to know the different media and their outlets. And it wasn’t the Scranton media.

Sweeny Murti
Yankees@wfan.com
www.twitter.com/YankeesWFAN

What do you make of Burnett’s spring starts? Let us know in the comments below…

pixy Sweeny Says: The Good A.J. Burnett