TAMPA, Fla. - A.J. Burnett isn't about to make too much of two good exhibition starts. He knows better than to draw broad conclusions based on five innings. But coming off the season he had last year, what he's done in 2011 certainly beats the alternative.
Burnett pitched three perfect innings Monday in the Yankees' 7-1 split-squad win over the Phillies, who brought their "A" lineup to Steinbrenner Field - Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, etc.
"They're just getting going like we are; that's why you don't get too caught up in results," said Burnett, who allowed two hits and no runs in Wednesday's debut against the Astros. "More, it's about how you feel, and the fact I'm able to repeat myself now and not really think about it is where I want to be."
Burnett was better Monday than he was against the Astros. He struck out only one but had only one hard-hit ball against him, a long fly to center by Placido Polanco, the game's second batter. Five of his outs came on the ground.
"He had his 'A' stuff," said catcher Russell Martin, who started for the second straight game and had no issues with his right knee. "His fastball was coming out effortless, it seemed . . . He was awesome."
Burnett said his changeup, which he had worked on in spring training for several years before mostly abandoning it in the regular season, and fastball were sharp. His curveball wasn't where he wants it, but that's usually the pitch he worries least about.
"I was downhill for the most part and I was in the strike zone," Burnett said. "It's the second spring start and everything, but I didn't want to go one inning and give up four homers and come out and be like, 'It's just my second start.' Fact is, I was in control."
Burnett and Joe Girardi were most pleased with how he handled the last batter he faced, second baseman Wilson Valdez, who kept fouling off pitches to stay alive. Burnett kept coming at him, finally retiring Valdez on a soft grounder to short. "The thing that stuck out to me was the quality of pitches he made to Valdez," Girardi said. "One after another until he got him."
Said Burnett: "The last five pitches were all down and away, and they were all in the perfect spot. I'm able to repeat easier and, as of right now, my mind's clear and I'm not thinking about this and that, and just attacking."
Girardi, though not saying Burnett looked "uncomfortable" while going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010, did say he thought he was "at times searching" and got frustrated when things went awry.
Burnett has been working with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild on a slight mechanical adjustment with his lower half - less movement - to keep him more in line with the plate. It's an adjustment Burnett said he's been able to do in his two starts without over-thinking.
"Larry mentioned that from the get-go, 'Let us [coaches] think out there,' " Burnett said. "Let us see and think and you guys just go out there and pitch. It's a lot of fun that way."