A.J. Burnett was always a thorn in the Yankees' side.
While with Toronto, Burnett continually shut the Yankees down, causing their hitters to look more like a bunch of little leaguers than professionals.
When Burnett chose to become a free agent after the 2008 season, a lot of people thought that the Yankees shouldn't go after him. Burnett has been plagued by a lot of injuries throughout his career. The last thing the Yankees needed was another pitcher with a high probability of landing on the DL.
Burnett was always a guy that could throw gas and, as a result, was told many times in his career that he had to throw hard which led to a lot of injuries.
In 2008, he had the benefit of pitching behind Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers in the game. He fully credits Halladay with teaching him how to be a more complete pitcher and take better care of his body for the long season, which would likely lead to less injuries.
The Yankees' offseason mission was to sign some serious starting pitching. At the top of their list was CC Sabathia. Sabathia's reputation for being a work horse and his dominating stuff were the reasons the Yankees were pursuing Sabathia so severely.
It seemed like the Yankees were going to pass on Burnett, who had offers from other teams. Even if Sabathia decided to sign with the Yankees, the team was still going to need more pitching or, once again, they'd be relying on the inexperience of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to fill out the rest of the rotation.
By some stroke of luck, the Yankees were able to sign Sabathia AND Burnett before Christmas. Naturally, Sabathia got the main attention considering he's a No. 1 starter. Burnett was merely called a "good pick up" if he could stay healthy.
Fast forward to opening day. The Yankees have a fresh rotation with Sabathia, Burnett, a healthy Chien-Ming Wang, Pettitte, and Joba rounding out the fifth spot. The line up was stacked from top to bottom even with Alex Rodriguez out until May from hip surgery. Things couldn't look better...
That sayng about how things are never what they seem to be couldn't have been more true.
Sabathia got rocked in his first start and Wang did even worse in his season debut. The Yankees were 0-2 with the part of the team that they had worked so hard to rebuild failing miserably.
On April 9, Burnett took the mound against Baltimore and reminded everyone just how good he really is.
He gave up two runs in 5.1 innings, striking out six batters to help lead the Yankees to their first win of the season.
That was more than Sabathia and Wang could do for the Yankees.
In his second start against Tampa Bay, Burnett set the tone early. The night before, the Yankees had been embarrassed by the Rays 15-5 when Wang couldn't record an out in the second inning and the bullpen couldn't provide much relief.
Things were so bad, Girardi had to put in Nick Swisher (who isn't even a major league pitcher) to provide some help to the depleted bullpen.
Burnett pitched eight innings, struck out nine batters, and gave up two runs. Not to mention, he had a no hitter going into the bottom of the seventh. Tampa Bay started to make a come back but Burnett didn't let it get the best of him. The Yankee offense exploded over the next couple of innings to give Burnett his second win of the year.
For someone who wasn't thought of as a worthy signing, he looked like a No. 1 starter.
Of course there is a lot of baseball left to be played. Sabathia has shown signs of improvement and will most likely return to his true form.
However, Burnett is the one everyone needs to keep their eye on. He's got a lot of good pitches in his arsenal and he now knows that he doesn't always have to throw 99 mph in order to get someone out.
If he keeps it up, he may just prove to be the best signing the Yankees made this past winter and, beyond that, the best signing they've made in years.
Keep up the good work, A.J.