A.J. Burnett finally has begun to trust his changeup, and more importantly, himself.
He had long shied away from throwing the pitch, preferring to stick with his tried-and-true fastball and curveball. But Thursday, the changeup proved to be his best asset.
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Burnett allowed two runs in six innings and moved to 2-0 as the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-3, at the Stadium. He shut out the Twins in five of the six innings, helped by a willingness to throw a third pitch.
He tried to shake off signs for the changeup from Russell Martin, but "he put the same sign down, so I went with it," Burnett said. "He's got me believing."
So does Martin. "I think he's taking the success he had in spring training and carrying it over to the season," he said. "It was a pitch, when we talked about it, he said it was his third-best pitch, but I think it's going to be a major pitch for him."
The Yankees closed out their season-opening six-game homestand at 4-2, setting up a rather interesting three-game series against the 0-6 Red Sox starting Friday afternoon at Fenway Park.
Burnett improved to 7-0 with a 3.91 ERA in 12 April starts as a Yankee, but he said he isn't getting caught up in his early numbers. "You see how I started last year," said the righthander, who was 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA after six 2010 starts and finished 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA. "But it's all about consistency."
Manager Joe Girardi said he's seen a significant change in Burnett's stuff. "His breaking ball has been totally different to me than it was last year," he said. "It has had more of the downward [movement] that we were accustomed to seeing in '09."
Burnett's teammates were most impressed with his ability to wiggle out of trouble after he issued back-to-back walks to Justin Morneau and Jim Thome to start the second and allowed doubles to Morneau, Thome and Jason Kubel in the fourth that gave the Twins a 2-1 lead.
"I thought that was very, very important for him," said Derek Jeter (2-for-3), who moved into 33rd place on the all-time hits list with 2,931. "They have a lineup that can hit, a lot of tough guys, they threw a lot of lefties at him, but he was outstanding."
Burnett, who beat the Tigers last week despite sinus and throat infections, allowed five hits and two walks to the Twins, striking out five.
"It's all confidence," he said. "It's confidence that I'm going to make my pitch and get these three outs."
Down 2-1, the Yankees rallied for three runs in the fourth against Twins starter Francisco Liriano (0-2). Alex Rodriguez led off with a walk and Robinson Cano singled. After Jorge Posada struck out, Andruw Jones doubled to left to tie the score and Martin grounded out to first to drive in Cano and send Jones to third. Brett Gardner made it 4-2 with a two-out RBI single that landed just in front of rightfielder Michael Cuddyer.
Minnesota moved within 4-3 with an unearned run against Joba Chamberlain in the seventh. Alexi Casilla was hit by a pitch, stole second, went to third when Martin's low throw ricocheted off him and scored on Denard Span's groundout.
But after Joe Mauer led off the eighth with a single, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera retired the final six Twins hitters to close out the victory.
The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third when Gardner walked, stole second, moved to third on Jeter's groundout and scored on Nick Swisher's sacrifice fly.