Yankees' Burnett ready to be factor again

New York Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett throws a New York Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett throws a pitch in a bullpen session during spring training. (Feb. 15, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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TAMPA, Fla. - A.J. Burnett said he gets "depressed" thinking about the 2010 season, and in that respect he has plenty in common with most Yankees fans.

Burnett, coming off the worst of his 12 seasons, very well may be the key to the rotation, another reason those fans still may feel a bit dejected heading into 2011.

But the 34-year-old righthander, 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA, said last year is behind him.

And he's not the only one.

"Whenever he's had some [career] dips, he's always bounced back," general manager Brian Cashman said. "I count on that. He's coming off his worst season, but he's had some tough stretches before and he's responded to it. He'll respond. I believe that. Need him to, but I believe it."

Burnett was bypassed in the Division Series against the Twins. He started Game 4 of the ALCS, but only because there weren't enough days off to allow for a three-man rotation. He gave up five runs in six innings and took the loss as the Rangers won, 10-3, to take a 3-1 lead.

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Burnett said on the flight home after the Yankees' season-ending loss in Game 6 that he realized "how important" he was to the team and that he had let it down.

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

Later, he said: "I didn't do anything, man. I pitched one game in the postseason. I mean, what's going on? That's not what I came here to do. I came here to win, came here to pitch. Came here to be behind Big Man [CC Sabathia] and I wasn't last year."

Much was made of the visit Larry Rothschild made to Burnett's home this offseason, and the pitcher said he immediately felt comfortable with the new pitching coach.

"We worked on lower-half delivery," Burnett said. "I like Larry. He's old school, I'm old school. He's not here to change a bunch of things. On the other hand, my lower half seems to swing out like a gate. It's just a matter of keeping that from overswinging."

Fair or not, Rothschild will be judged largely on how Burnett performs. Rothschild, as he said last week at the minor-league complex, emphasized the first step is "working on getting him in line toward the plate," but that drastic changes weren't, and aren't, necessary.

"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. "We're just trying to get it where it repeats, where he can repeat deliveries. This is just refining things and simplifying them."

Burnett agreed: "I don't think I need to be fixed. I just think I had a really bad year last year."

Manager Joe Girardi said, "This guy is talented and this guy really cares and has a passion for this team and helping this team and that makes me feel good."

Burnett boiled down turning it around this season to "mentally staying right," no surprise in that after most bad performances in his two seasons with the Yankees, he talked about issues above the shoulders rather than his mechanics.

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He said he realizes the pressure on him, especially in light of Cliff Lee's choosing to go to Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte's retirement. But Burnett made this point: The pressure was there regardless.

"I felt that before all that happened," Burnett said. "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."

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