BRADENTON, Fla. — A.J. Burnett was happy to escape from New York.
“It was fun the first couple of years. Then it got like, I’m never going to get out of this funk,” he said Monday, a day after the Yankees dealt him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a pair of low-level prospects.
After signing an $82.5 million, five-year contract, Burnett helped the Yankees to their 27th World Series title in 2009. Then he slumped to a 21-26 record with a 5.20 ERA over the following two seasons.
He led the major leagues with 25 wild pitches last year and allowed a career-high 31 homers.
“I let a few too many people tinker with me, maybe,” Burnett said. “When you let that happen, you start doubting yourself sometimes. You wonder, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’ and things like that. In ’09, nobody messed with me. I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around, close my eyes and pitch upside down. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening.”
Pittsburgh is paying just $13 million of Burnett’s salary: $5 million this year and $8 million in 2013. The Yankees are paying the rest.
In a smaller market with reduced expectations, there should be less pressure on the 35-year-old right-hander.
“It’s going to be a fresh start,” Burnett said. “It’s going to be fun. I’m going back to the National League, where I can hit and bunt and get the joy back into the game.”
A 13-year veteran, Burnett will move into the top spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation. General manager Neal Huntington thinks Burnett can return to his form of a few years ago.
“Our scouts still saw very good stuff,” Huntington said. “They saw power to the fastball, although the velocity is down from four or five years ago. He’s still got good movement. He was still one of the better ground-ball pitchers in the American League last year, which is going to play well in our ballpark.”
Burnett also will be expected to provide a leadership role for younger players.
“Hopefully, I can just lead by example,” Burnett said. “I’ll take the ball every five days. I’m not going to make excuses. One thing I can take from my time in New York is I’ll never back down from anything. I’m not a cheerleader, shaking pom-poms. But I know right and wrong and, hopefully, I can share that with the younger players.”
Burnett was scheduled to throw a bullpen session during Monday afternoon’s workout at Pirate City.
To clear a roster spot for him, infielder Gustavo Nunez was placed on the 60-day DL with a right ankle injury. Two months ago, the Pirates claimed Nunez from the Tigers in the winter meeting draft.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
Burnett: I let ‘too many people tinker with me’
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