- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ex-Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett says he enjoyed his time in New York, but wished he could’ve had an opportunity this season to prove people wrong.
“I have a championship there,” Burnett, who was traded the Pirates on Saturday in exchange for a pair of prospects -- Pittsburgh will only have to pay $13 million of the $31 million left on his contract, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney -- said during a Tuesday appearance on ESPN NewYork 1050’s “The Michael Kay Show.” “I played with some great teammates in a great city.
“Were [the fans and media] hard on me? Yeah. Did I give them reasons to [be hard on me]? Yeah. So I ain’t running from anything. Yes, I wish I had the opportunity to prove people wrong. But on the other hand, it’s time to move forward.”
Burnett wound up compiling a 4.79 ERA with the Yankees, the second-highest in franchise history among those pitchers pitchers who threw at least 500 innings, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His fastball velocity declined from 94.1 mph in 2009 to 92.6 in 2011.
In 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information, one out of every five Burnett pitches registered 95 mph or faster on Pitch F/X’s radar-gun readings. In 2011, that rate was one in every 250 pitches.
“I think I just started buying in and listening to the wrong things,” Burnett said when asked why things went south. “I’m not gonna be the guy that’s not coachable and the guy that doesn’t wanna get better and doesn’t wanna learn. So when you’re surrounded by Hall of Famers like that that wanna help you, you’re gonna listen. And I think I got away from a lot. I don’t think my velocity’s dropped down. I think the way I changed my delivery made my velocity drop down. ... I never felt like I did in 2009 as a Yankee.”
Asked who changed him, Burnett replied, “It wasn’t exactly a change. I think maybe reactions here or there from the crowd if I walked a couple guys or got in bad counts early, it’s like it’s over. But it’s not over, I still got six or seven innings left to pitch, so ease up.
“At the same time, I turned a lot [in my delivery in the past]. I had deception in my delivery in 2009 that made me successful. It wasn’t anybody. They didn’t like the turn. They wanted me to be more of a strike thrower and try to get more consistent in the strike zone because I was wild in that delivery -- but then again I was more powerful and dominant in that delivery.”
Burnett holds no animosity toward the Yankees and their organization -- especially manager Joe Girardi.
“I have a great feeling about Joe,” Burnett said. “He texted me the other day, and we were texting back and forth. He was great. I think I was just so caught up in getting back and trying to turn the page and get going right, and a few of those times I felt like I could’ve gotten it done if I was given the chance to stay in there a little longer. On the other hand, skip can’t let it get any worse, but you don’t think about that when you’re out on the mound, but there was never an issue with Joe.”
Ultimately, Burnett considers his time with the Yankees a success.
“I’m not gonna sugarcoat anything. Did I produce as a starter like I should’ve? Heck no. I didn’t,” he said. “Did I have a few good games when we needed [them]? Yes, I did. I just never was consistent.”
Burnett never did live up to the five-year, $82.5 million contract he signed prior to the 2009 season, but he did have his moments. The Yankees wouldn’t have won the 2009 World Series had he not pitched seven innings of one-run ball to earn the victory in Game 2 over Philadelphia. And he went out on top after hurling 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball in Game 4 of the 2011 ALDS against Detroit.
“I did end with a victory, a tough victory,” Burnett said. “The world was pretty much against me, but the guys in that locker room and that organization, they never gave up on me.”
Burnett said he’s likely not going to be throwing 97 or 98 like he used to in Pittsburgh, “but I got more than 92 left in the tank, that’s for sure.”
Burnett said he never turned down a trade to the Angels, but it was basically understood that he wouldn’t pitch on the West Coast. It wasn’t that his wife was fearful of flying he said, but because he has two young children that live in Maryland, and it’s too far away.
Burnett doesn’t know if his pie-throwing tradition after walk-off victories will continue, but hopes it does.
“I’m just glad I got the chance to bring it to New York, because honestly it was like somebody landed on the moon,” Burnett said.
Burnett laughed when asked about not getting captain Derek Jeter with a pie.
Burnett was quick to point out that he took the ball every five days as a Yankee, and never made any excuses. In each of his three seasons with the Yankees, he made 33 starts.
He said he was prepared to win the fifth starter job over Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia.
“I busted my butt [in the offseason] harder than I have in a long time,” Burnett said. “I was ready to prove people wrong.”
He won’t get that chance now.
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