A.J. Burnett can relax, he's found a home

A.J. Burnett of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against

A.J. Burnett of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Houston Astros. (May 13, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH

Since he was traded by the Yankees to the Pirates, A.J. Burnett has been hit in the eye with his own bunt and gave up 12 runs in one outing.

And he's having a blast.

"Obviously, a lot less pressure and things of that nature," Burnett said Tuesday night before the Pirates hosted the Mets in the second game of a series in which he will not pitch.

Burnett, who went 34-35 in three seasons with the Yankees, was traded to Pittsburgh after the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda and dealt for Michael Pineda. The Yankees included more than $18 million to induce the Pirates to take on Burnett, who is 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA in six starts.

Burnett, 35, Tuesday sported the requisite I-left-the-Yankees facial hair, a wispy patch of stubble under his chin. He wore a Pirates yellow sleeveless T-shirt with the motto "Preparation for Domination" and some sort of Pirate monkey logo that Burnett designed himself.

He is the Pirates' ace and one of the veteran leaders of their pitching staff along with lefthander Erik Bedard.

"Sad, right?" Burnett said.

Burnett's season started late after a scary spring training incident in which he fouled a bunt off his right eye socket. He had surgery March 2 to repair a broken orbital bone.

"Thank God it didn't hit me a little bit higher," said Burnett, who doesn't even have a bruise left.

Burnett's first Pittsburgh start came April 21. He pitched seven shutout innings to beat St. Louis, but drew more notice from the PNC Park crowd when he squared to bunt in the third inning.

"I hear the crowd going, 'Noooooooo!' " Burnett said. "Rod [Barajas] was on first and I was like, 'Are they telling Rod to go?' [Yadier] Molina was back there and he was like, 'You're bunting.' I was like, 'Ah, I get it now.' "

He has been typically inconsistent. On May 2 vs. St. Louis, he gave up 12 runs and 12 hits in 22/3 innings. In his other starts, his ERA is 2.06. He shrugged off the beating, something he always has been able to do after a bad outing.

"I've been way worse than that," he joked Tuesday.

In his next start, Burnett allowed two runs in eight innings with 10 strikeouts in a no-decision against Washington.

While with the Yankees, Burnett said, he was "trying to impress everybody instead of just pitching." He also chafed at the amount of tinkering the Yankees did with his mechanics in his final two years in the Bronx.

"It's really different," he said. "Go out there and do what I want to and how I want to. If I want to turn around upside down, I can do it as long as I throw strikes . . . In my first start, I walked the bases loaded. Imagine what that place would have sounded like over there. Maybe a few words came out of the crowd here. It's different. You're just a little less on edge."

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