With the final two spots in the Yankees' rotation up in the air as they enter the 2011 season, the team is counting on A.J. Burnett to have a bounce-back year to solidify the front end of the pitching staff.
The right-hander started out on the right foot Wednesday against an Astros split squad team, allowing two hits and walking none, while striking out one over two scoreless innings. He recorded five outs on the ground and none in the air.
Burnett threw 15 of his 21 pitches for strikes, retiring the side in order in the first before yielding a pair of bloop singles to right-center to open the second inning. But the veteran worked out of that jam by getting Houston first baseman Brett Wallace to ground into a 4-6-3 double play on a sharp breaking ball. Burnett also recorded his only strikeout on a good-looking curve that he later described as "rubbish."
In all, the righty threw 15 fastballs and six breaking pitches, five of which were strikes.
This is a good sign as Burnett works to refine his delivery with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild after posting a 5.26 ERA in 33 starts last season. That followed a 13-9, 4.04 campaign in 2009.
Sergio Mitre and Joba Chamberlain also recorded scoreless innings in Tampa, but Boone Logan struggled in the fifth, tossing meatballs and dirtballs before getting bailed out of further trouble thanks to a great diving stop by Robinson Cano.
What will A.J. Burnett's ERA be in 2011?
In all, the lefty allowed three hits and a run, while striking out one batter.
Offensively, however, Cano continued his slow start, going 0-for-3 on a trio of ground balls to run his spring total to 0-for-7.
Derek Jeter, who is tinkering with his approach at the plate after a rough 2010 season, hit the ball hard twice in three at-bats, but picked up only one single.
Mark Teixeira, who is trying to get his notoriously slow April start out of the way in March, walked and hit a bloop double in three plate appearances.
Jorge Posada grounded out in his two at-bats, but he moved a runner over to third with less than two outs in the second and hit the ball hard off the pitcher in the fourth.
Andruw Jones and Justin Maxwell, who were both acquired in the offseason for outfield depth, each got a start on Wednesday. Jones was 0-for-3, but drove in a run with a grounder in the second.
Maxwell reached base in both of his plate appearances, singling and walking, but had an uneven day on the basepaths. In the third inning, he stole second, but most likely would've been thrown out if not for a very high throw from catcher J.R. Towles. Then in the fifth, he foolishly attempted to go from first to third on Jeter's single to center, even though there were no outs.
Maxwell was gunned down on the play and New York failed to score.
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Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at email@example.com