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New and improved A.J. Burnett?

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) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A.J, Burnett made an exhibition of himself last season and it went beyond his 10-15 record.

Today, we begin to see if there is a makeover as he starts against the Houston Astros for--the Yankees hope--two innings of exhibition work this afternoon.

A quick recap of 2010: He beat himself up—literally—in the midst of a failed outing against Tampa Bay. He showed up in Baltimore with a black eye (make the obvious metaphor) and totally unrewarded the faith shown in him by manager Joe Girardi by bombing out against the Rangers in the ALCS.

Burnett may also have had a bit to do with Dave Eiland’s firing. If Ireland’s unexplained leave of absence was most of the reason, the pitching coach’s inability to turn around Burnett was probably at least part of the issue.

The next miracle worker to take on Burnett is Larry Rothschild and, in a very small sample, we’ll see what happens when Burnett takes the mound.

This comes after Burnett beaned teammate Greg Golson in batting practice the other day. What would have been an otherwise isolated incident for anyone else is cause for concern with the fragile Burnett.

The Yankees are on the hook for a $16.5 million salary for Burnett, so in large measure that is why he is here at all. Of equal importance, there are enough projected problems with the rotation that Burnett has to be effective as the No. 3 starter.

You think spring training doesn’t count? Burnett needs a confidence boost even if it comes against a lineup of hitters bound for Triple-A.

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