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To heel and back: Burnett leads Yanks over O's

The moment on the mound probably went unnoticed in the stands or to teammates playing behind him waiting for A.J. Burnett’s next pitch.

The moment on the mound probably went unnoticed in the stands or to teammates playing behind him waiting for A.J. Burnett’s next pitch.

Burnett definitely noticed and was baffled by why he was landing on his heel. It seemed so confounding to Burnett that he actually called pitching coach Larry Rothchild to the mound to discuss the issue.

Rothchild told Burnett not to worry, focus on the next pitch and relax. And when Burnett heeded the advice, he improved to 3-0 by pitching 6 1/3 innings in last night’s 7-4 win over the Orioles.

“I was landing on my heel constantly and couldn’t correct it,” Burnett said. “I called him out and basically said, ‘I’m landing on my heel, what’s going on. He was like ‘Forget about that, next pitch just let it go you’re fine and it worked.”

It definitely did.

At the time of requesting Rothchild’s presence, Burnett may have been headed towards one of those ugly 2010 starts. He had thrown nearly 50 pitches, allowed two hits and a walk.

So instead of imploding, Burnett grew sharper by retiring 14 of the next 16 batters, threw 104 mostly good pitches and though he gave up two-run home runs to Matt Wieters and Brian Roberts in the seventh, mistakes were limited.

And when the combination of composure and confidence in a third pitch – the changeup – signs seem to indicate this year could be different for Burnett, who threw the pitch 14 times for an average of 87.5 mph.

“It took me 12 years to throw a changeup and he (catcher Russell Martin) believes in it,” Burnett said. “I’m starting to more and more. It's going to be a big pitch. I threw a lot of them in fastball counts tonight and it felt good.”

Martin believes in the pitch because of what he saw in spring training and its usage has incrementally increased from six against Detroit on April 2 to 12 last week against Minnesota and to 14, which Burnett believed might have been his most since throwing 44 against Tampa Bay six years ago.

“It's got good action to it," Martin said. "He works it off the same plane and the hitters see a fastball coming at them. The next thing you know, it dips. He gets a lot of ground balls with it."

It still might take a while for Yankee fans to believe more and more in Burnett, but being 3-0 with a 4.67 ERA is better than the alternative.

They might believe more if Burnett does those things in big spots such as pennant race games in September or in Fenway Park, a venue he thrived during his 18-win season with Toronto three years ago that netted him the five-year deal in the Bronx. They might also believe if he uses that pitch as well as last night the second time against an opposing lineup.

“The way he's throwing the ball, he's going to win games if he can consistently locate his fastball and mix those other two pitches in," manager Joe Girardi said.

The Yankees also will consistently win if they score six times during the first two innings, which they did last night as Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run home run off Chris Tillman. Rodriguez’s 617th blast occurred an inning before Martin scored on Jeter’s infield hit and Cano’s two-run double.

Jeter had two hits and if he ever decided to read the papers, he would have seen numerous articles about his poor start. Jorge Posada also would have seen articles on the same topic but the new DH also collected two hits, including a solo home run that halted a 0-for-19 slump.

 
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