The Yankees signed A.J. Burnett to be their No. 2 starting pitcher for the 2009 season. Had everything gone perfectly for Brian Cashman and Co. this offseason, Burnett would be the team's fifth starter for 2011.
At the moment, however, with Cliff Lee gone to Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte uncommitted for 2011, Burnett stands as the team's No. 3 starter, making a turnaround all the more important. As an example of that, new Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild will spend a week to 10 days with Burnett next month at the righthander's Maryland home.
"We need A.J. to come back to his previous form. There's no doubt about it," Cashman said Tuesday, at a Manhattan event to announce the signing of Freeport High School alumnus Leonel Vinas. "I believe he will, but we need that to happen, too.
"We signed A.J. to be not a back of the rotation starter, but to pitch toward the front of the rotation. That's what his abilities are. That's what he's capable of doing. And that's what we expect. I believe you'll see that again.
"That means a lot of hard work. I know he's up for it."
In his second season as a Yankee, Burnett, who will turn 34 Jan. 3, put up a 5.26 ERA in 1862/3 innings. It proved a far drop from the 4.04 ERA in 207 innings he posted in 2009.
"Mechanics are everything for him," Cashman, the Yankees' general manager, said of Burnett. "Getting it down pat is the challenge. I know our guys know what they have to do, and I know A.J. is up for the challenge. He's committed to doing it."
Notes & quotes: Cashman said that Alex Rodriguez visited with Marc Philippon, the hip specialist who performed A-Rod's 2009 surgery, and gave the third baseman a clean bill of health. . . Cashman, on why Joba Chamberlain won't be considered for a switch back to the starting rotation: "His stuff plays so much significantly [better] out of the 'pen. We had given him an opportunity to pitch in the rotation, and the velocity dropped. It's just not the same stuff." . . . The Yankees will have a luxury tax of $18 million on their league-leading payroll.