With change in delivery, Burnett is confident

Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett throws during spring training

Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett throws during spring training at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. (Feb. 17, 2011) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

TAMPA, Fla. - As soon as last season ended, A.J. Burnett felt the pressure.

Coming off a career-worst season and playoff run in which he was bypassed in the ALDS, the righthander did some introspection.

"I wasn't really a factor,'' Burnett said, "and I'm here to be a factor.''

And so, Cliff Lee's spurning of the Bronx for Philly and the retirement of Andy Pettitte -- two moves that kept Burnett in the more pressurized No. 2 spot in the rotation instead of pushing him to No. 4 -- didn't make much difference to Burnett insofar as the necessity of having a bounce-back season.

"I felt that before all that happened,'' Burnett said during spring training. "I know the cameras are on me; I know this is my spring this year. I'm not blind to that. I'm all for it.''

Indeed, every outing -- every pitch, really -- was scrutinized and Burnett came through fine.

"His delivery's a lot better,'' one talent evaluator said. "There's a big difference in his stride direction. The key is, can he maintain it when the heat is on?''

That would be in the regular season, when the cameras Burnett spoke of will be out in full force.

And in a lose-lose scenario, even a good beginning probably won't make some fans true believers.

After all, Burnett went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010, and that was after going 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA through six starts.

Still, a good start to the season beats the alternative.

"I think that would be helpful,'' Joe Girardi. "If it doesn't, I think he'll be able to handle that, but obviously, I think that's important, just because you want to get that behind you, you want to be able to put last year behind you.''

Burnett worked throughout spring training with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild on a slight mechanical adjustment. After watching Burnett's 2010 starts during the winter, Rothschild decided he needed to be kept more in line with the plate. Basically, less side-to-side movement with his legs.

"My lower half seems to swing out like a gate,'' Burnett said during spring training. "It's just a matter of keeping that from overswinging.''

Burnett did that for the most part during his first three exhibition starts, but not as much in his fourth one on March 18 against the Blue Jays. He allowed four runs -- two earned -- and four hits, striking out five with two wild pitches.

"Just terrible,'' said a scout who was at the game. "But that's who he is. The days he's on, he's a 1. Days he's not, get the bullpen ready early.''

Without indicting form- er pitching coach Dave Eiland, Burnett has rav- ed about working with Rothschild, who is much more low-key in demeanor than his predecessor.

"He's a confidence-type pitching coach,'' Burnett said. "Go out and throw it, your stuff's good enough. He tells me that a million times.''

Rothschild said that when he visited with Burnett in the offseason, he found an eager student, and one not in need of a major overhaul. "Look, this guy's had success at a pretty good level in the major leagues, so we're not trying to rebuild anything,'' Rothschild said.

Even though Burnett has had a career marked by inconsistency, the Yankees believe his 2010 season was an aberration.

"Whenever he's had some [career] dips, he's always bounced back,'' general manager Brian Cashman said. "I count on that.''

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