TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A.J. Burnett was on target - with his pitches and his psyche.
Making his first start of the spring after a distressing 2010 season, Burnett pitched two scoreless innings Wednesday in the New York Yankees' 6-5 win over a Houston Astros split squad.
``It was fun out there to face some hitters, just throw strikes, just go out there and go pitch by pitch,' Burnett said. ``That's what we're working on: not worrying about what happens if you throw a ball or what I did wrong if I miss by 4 inches. The more I get out there the better I'm going to feel.'
Last year was marked by a lack of control on and off the field for Burnett. The right-hander cut both hands smacking a clubhouse door out of frustration, came to work with a mysterious black eye and was basically bruised by batters all season, finishing 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA. He led the league with 19 hit batters and threw 16 wild pitches.
His first Grapefruit League start worked out better than his last side session, when he beaned teammate Greg Golson.
Burnett threw first-pitch strikes to his first five batters and 15 strikes overall in 21 pitches. He froze Clint Barmes with a curveball for a strikeout in the first. After giving up two opposite-field singles to start the second, Burnett calmly induced a 4-6-3 double play before getting J.R. Towles to ground to third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
``I thought pretty good,' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Burnett's performance. ``Some adjustments in his mechanics, he threw strikes, got some groundballs.'
Burnett has been working on simplifying his motion to prevent him from stepping toward first base rather than straight toward home plate during his delivery. Girardi said the direct step home, something Burnett likened to a ``karate kick,' will help with his command and consistency.
Equally as important to Burnett is his mental approach. Too often when he struggled, Burnett could be seen moping on the mound, which causes more problems.
``Stuff is going to creep into your head, you cannot eliminate everything. But you've got to have confidence in yourself and believe,' Burnett said.
More pressing for the Yankees is the condition of catcher Francisco Cervelli, who fouled a ball off his left foot. Cervelli, trying to hold off prospect Jesus Montero to keep his backup job, had a CT scan and an MRI. The CT was negative but the MRI was inconclusive and will be viewed by doctors. At minimal, Cervelli will not play Thursday or Friday, when Russell Martin will make his first start behind the plate.
Martin, wearing a new brace on his surgically repaired right knee, walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to finish off the Yankees' five-run rally.
Astros pitchers had more success early. Bud Norris gave up one hit, a double to Rodriguez to start the second, and got groundballs on five of his six outs. He struck out one and walked one in his first outing this spring.
``I got their A team, which is what I want,' Norris said. ``I think I did a great job, got the ball down, had a lot of groundballs.'
Norris was followed by the Astros' minor league pitcher of the year, 20-year-old Jordan Lyles. Competing for the No. 5 starter spot, Lyles gave up a single and walked two in two innings. What was most encouraging was after Justin Maxwell singled to lead off the third and stole second, Lyles worked out of the jam, retiring Derek Jeter and A-Rod in the inning.
Lyles wasn't fazed by the stars, though.
``It was pretty fun,' he said, ``but when it came down to it I was just trying to get them out and they were just another guy in the lineup.'
The Astros scored four times in the seventh, taking advantage of three straight errors by New York backups to start the inning.
NOTES: The other Astros squad beat the Detroit Tigers 6-3 in Lakeland. ... Jeter went 1 for 3 and is 2 for 9 so far with his strideless swing. ... Astros 3B Matt Downs had an RBI single off Boone Logan and a sacrifice fly. ... Joba Chamberlain pitched his second scoreless inning. He allowed his first baserunners but got a double play. ``It was nice to get some runners on, get that anxiety,' he said. ... Lance Pendleton, taken by the Astros from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft this winter, walked Martin, his only batter.
The Associated Press News Service
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