Burnett raises more concerns in simulated game

Yankees starter A.J. Burnett throws a simulated game Yankees starter A.J. Burnett throws a simulated game at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Standing atop the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium under a cloudless sky at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday, A.J. Burnett threw the first pitch of a simulated game to Greg Golson.

The ball sailed over Golson's head and went all the way to the backstop of the batting-practice screen the Yankees had set up for the day - a day made necessary, as Yogi Berra might say, by Burnett's long layoff thanks to the Yankees not wanting him to pitch in the first round of the playoffs because he hasn't been pitching well.

Burnett's fourth pitch hit Golson in the shoulder.

In the fourth "inning," he hit Austin Kearns in the arm with a fastball. Kearns hit the deck.

"I got two guys today," said Burnett, who hit a major league-high 19 batters during a 10-15 regular season. "It's different when they're our guys. They may know I didn't mean to do it. But it's still not a good feeling. At the same time, it works even for our guys. From then on out, nobody wanted to step in."

Burnett threw, by his count, more than 80 pitches in his five innings. He was happy with the outing.

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"Better than I thought," he said. "I ended up throwing 80-plus pitches and felt good all the way through it. It was a big step forward."

Pitching in an empty stadium, with four batters rotating, pitchers shagging fly balls in the outfield and Brett Gardner working on taking leads off third base, Burnett's outing had a spring-training feel.

But his next start isn't against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. or the Tigers in Lakeland. It will likely be against the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.

If the Yankees tell you they have any idea what to expect from their $82.5-million enigma, they are the only ones.

A little before noon, Burnett walked in from the bullpen with Francisco Cervelli. (A hint as to who will catch Game 4? Perhaps.)

Burnett faced Golson, Kearns, Ramiro Peña and Curtis Granderson - three backups and an everyday player. Granderson said on Tuesday that he was uncomfortable with the five-day layoff between the Yankees' final game of the Division Series against the Twins and their ALCS opener Friday at Rangers Ballpark.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland stood behind the mound, shielded by a protective screen. If Burnett needed a new baseball, Eiland would gently toss it to him over the screen.

After hitting Golson in the first, Burnett fooled Kearns so badly that the righthanded hitter's bat ended up flying all the way to the empty third-base stands. So Burnett still has the stuff. But the number of balls Cervelli had to box in the dirt made it clear he was having a little trouble controlling it, as usual.

"The stuff is always good," Kearns said. "I think it's just a matter of feel as far as control and command. His stuff's good."

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Burnett's "innings" consisted of facing four batters, regardless of the result. There were no fielders. In the bottom half of the innings, Javier Vazquez pitched, and then Chad Gaudin.

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As Burnett warmed up before the second inning, the centerfield scoreboard suddenly flashed to life. It was a replay of Yankees first-base coach Mick Kelleher getting hit in the groin with a thrown ball during Game 3 of the ALDS. As the assembled coaches and players laughed, it was shown again.

Burnett pitched a third inning, a fourth, then faced two batters in a fifth. After Kearns grounded what would have been a routine 5-3, Eiland came around from the back of the screen and shook Burnett's hand.

Burnett's day was done. The questions about him were not.

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