A.J Burnett and Erik Bedard have each had their share of slumps in the past.
Between Burnett’s inability to pitch precisely and Bedard’s shoulder problems drastically affecting his performance, it seems these two pitchers share more in common than they would like.
However, despite their struggles, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Where is that light coming from?
None other than their spring training camps, where both of these pitchers are not only pitching up to par, but also proving that they can finally be dependable contributors to their teams.
In Burnett’s spring training debut against the Houston Astros, he stepped onto the mound confident, focused and determined. In two scoreless innings, Burnett allowed two hits, one strike out and recorded five ground outs.
When faced with a jam in the past, Burnett responded by becoming distraught, causing his pitching to suffer. However, in his game after allowing two singles towards right center, Burnett put an end to the past by getting first baseman Brett Wallace to ground into a double play.
Burnett’s spring success continued in his start against the Philadelphia Phillies, winning the game with a 7-1 victory. The way Burnett effortlessly struck out Ryan Howard and avoided runs by the dominate lineup including Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and more made pitching against this team seem like child’s play.
According to manager Joe Girardi, “I thought it was good. I thought it was better than his last start, which is the direction we want all our starters to go in,” he told reporters.
After pitching three perfect innings against the Phillies, Burnett is definitely headed in the right direction.
Despite the Yankees 6-5 loss against the Washington Nationals, Burnett still pitched like his old 2009-self. Although Burnett allowed two runs, he retired 12 out of 14 hitters, pitched four strikeouts and retired the last nine batters.
Overall, Burnett is in good shape for this upcoming season, ridding his disappointing past.
Now, let's look at Erik Bedard.
After pitching in only four months of the 2009 season, Bedard was put on the disabled list because of a torn labrum in his shoulder. With the annoyance of having shoulder pain, Bedard was held back from pitching in 2010.
The Mariners took a chance on Bedard and re-signed him for the 2011 season.
Like Burnett, Bedard debuted strong this spring, giving the Mariners relief for choosing to re-sign the best lefty pitcher in baseball (when healthy of course). Bedard pitched two and two-third shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels.
Bedard’s spring success continued against the Cleveland Indians, working two hitless innings, striking out four and allowing only one walk.
Overall, Bedard has gone three innings with zero hits, six strikeouts and one walk.
"We'll wait until the end of spring," Bedard told reporters, "Right now, it's fine. At this point it's just trying to get some stamina going and throw more innings and hopefully you feel good every time."
The amount of success these two pitchers have attained this spring is great, but how do we know this is not just a product of spring?
During spring training in 2010, the Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 2-1 as A.J Burnett allowed only one run in six and two-third innings. Just because Burnett has had a few good games does not necessarily mean he is back to being an ace pitcher again.
Despite his 2010 spring start, who can forget how Burnett ended the 2010 season, going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA.
Even with Bedard, he is pitching well now because he has had time to recover and is, at the moment, healthy. But what about when he pitches midseason? There is a chance his shoulder can plague the once struggling pitcher again.
There are many reasons as to why Burnett and Bedard's success may just be a product of spring.
They are both experiencing less pressure from their teams and fans. Of course, they are still under an extreme amount of pressure, having to prove their position in the starting rotation and ascertaining that they can both make comebacks for 2011.
However, compared to the overwhelming pressure they face during the actual season, this is nothing.
Their spring success can also be attributed to slow-starting hitters. As pitchers are always a few steps ahead of batters during spring training, it is easy for a pitcher to strike out hitters who are still in the early processes of training and who are not hitting to their full Major League potential.
Slow-starting hitters can be a major reason for Burnett’s and Bedard’s early spring success.
Whatever the case may be, both the Yankees and the Mariners have Burnett and Bedard who are two healthy, dominant and dependable pitchers as of right now.
Whether their success is attributed to the spring or if it can turn into a long-term achievement, each team is hoping for the same thing—that these pitchers are both transforming back into the unstoppable pitchers they once were.