Burnett adjusts with the curveball

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Photo credit: Andy King/AP

In his rain-shortened start last night, A.J. Burnett threw 75 pitches. He ran into trouble a couple of times, thanks to three hits and two walks, but each time was able to work out of it without incurring any damage. The only thing that came close was Justin Morneau’s warning track shot, which I thought was long gone when it leapt off the bat. At the end of five the game remained scoreless.

Burnett’s night came to a premature end after those five innings, thanks to the first rain delay, and first game suspension, the Twins have endured at their new stadium. The book is all but closed on him, with only the possibility of a win still looming. Given his limited exposure in the game — he probably could have pitched into the seventh once again — it’s tough not to like what we saw from Burnett. He had troubles at times, but where last year he would have let the game get way from him, this time he kept things under control.

One thing that leaps out last night is that he threw his curveball 23 times out of 75 pitches. Burnett has cut back on the curve this year, throwing it just 23.5 percent of the time. It doesn’t appear that his decreased curve usage has been an anomaly in a short sample. Even he has admitted several times this season that he’s just not feeling the curveball. His increased use of a two-seam fastball has led to higher groundball rates, a positive, but as David Golebiewski of FanGraphs notes, it has been a detriment to his strikeout rate.

It was clear in the first inning last night that Burnett did not have a good feel for his curve. He missed badly with it a couple of times, and didn’t hit the strike zone with the five he threw in the first. He went back to it a few times later, only to find similar results. The nasty curve on which Burnett has made his reputation would not help him very much. Yet, as I mentioned above, he didn’t abandon it completely. Instead it appeared he took a bit off it, using it more as an off-speed pitch than a breaking pitch. It worked fairly well, generating three swinging strikeouts and another called one.

If Burnett can continue to adjust in-game when his best curveball isn’t working, he might be able to avoid the meltdowns with which we became familiar last year. It’s pretty clear that he’s not comfortable throwing his changeup — he did only once last night, and that was on the ball I thought Morneau had hit into the St. Croix river. If he can keep batters off-balance with that pitch and induce grounders with his two-seamer (eight of the 12 balls in play were on the ground), he can be and effective pitcher even when he’s not feeling his best. He demonstrated that last night, and he has put the Yankees in an excellent position to pick up a win.

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  • Rose

    The only thing that came close was Justin Morneau’s warning track shot, which I thought was long gone when it leapt off the bat.

    Did he raise his hands in the air a la Denard Span? I guess Target is extremely hard to hit a HR in…according to the players, stats, and what people are saying.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    I thought Morneau’s hit was TO FREAKING JUPITER. Thanks Target Field or the wind or whatever caused that to stay in the park.

    Good article and I agree. Early on, it looked like he was going to implode, but he didn’t. Unfortunate that the Yankees couldn’t pick up a win for him.

    • A.D.

      Unfortunate that the Yankees couldn’t pick up a win for him.

      They still can, Burnett will be the pitcher of record when they come up to hit tonight.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        This is true :) Get ‘er done, Yanks.

  • Chris

    will the game continue on YES at 5?

    • SullyLV

      @Chris WWOR will continue to carry the game that starts at 5pm Eastern time.Yes will carry the nighe game.

  • http://5846.tumblr.com/ ledavidisrael

    If i tapped you on the shoulder at a bar before the season and said on May 26.
    Javy, Jeter, Marte and Tex are all in major season long slumps.
    Granderson, Posada ,Chan Ho, Johnson, Ace had missed more time then they played.
    All while AJ burnett didn’t have his curveball or his K/9.

    And I said the team was 26-18

    You would look at me and say MO, AROD, ANDY,CANO and CC must be RED HOT.

    When I reply’d nah just Cano. The rest have been luke warm.

    You would punch me in the face and all me a liar.

    You would punch my face when i told you their record was

    • Rose

      Now let’s go push this giant ball of oil out the window…

      /Kramerica’d

    • AJ

      I’d punch you in the face and take your keys away. Anyway, a little off topic, but Bruney was released and I think the Yanks should make a play for him.

      • pat

        Totally. he was absolutely horrendous with the Nats. Let’s bring him to the AL East!

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    Off-Topic police

  • mike c

    good AJ is a sight to behold