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Burnett works curveball into repertoire

Burnett works curveball into repertoire

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett couldn't help but laugh at the situation. After weeks of exhausting the topic of the broken nail on his right index finger -- the culprit that's kept the Blue Jays pitcher from throwing a curveball -- Burnett was finally able to use his signature pitch.

Seven pitches into his start against the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, Burnett fired his first breaking ball of the spring. Then, Burnett quickly spun around and watched the baseball sail well over the right-field wall for a solo home run off the bat of Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley.

"That's funny, man," said Burnett, chuckling about the ill-fated curveball after his outing. "I don't care who you are -- that's funny. It was a good one, too."

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Burnett was in a light mood following his start, which he deemed relatively successful, considering the right-hander still worked extensively on his changeup and was able to finally add the curve to the mix. The Phillies pounded Burnett for seven runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings, but the pitcher wasn't worried about the results.

"Results aside, I pitched today and I pitched well enough," said Burnett, who was chased from the game after 88 pitches. "A few pitches were just off the mark a little bit. Overall, I'm still throwing everything at them."

That now includes the curveball, which was absent from Burnett's options until Sunday. In November, the pitcher smashed his right index finger in his car door, breaking the nail and losing the ability to throw the curve. In order to throw that particular pitch, Burnett digs his index fingernail into the seams of the baseball.

Earlier this week, Burnett's nail had grown in enough for him to have a false nail applied to his finger. That allowed him to begin using the pitch in his scheduled bullpen session and in the Grapefruit League tilt against the Phillies. When he wasn't able to throw the curve, Burnett concentrated on honing his changeup.

Burnett's worked on the offspeed pitch in nearly every Spring Training over the course of his career, but he wants to begin utilizing the changeup more during the regular season -- a point he reiterated once again on Sunday. Using three pitches -- Burnett said he didn't try any sliders against the Phils -- he finished with three strikeouts and three walks.

"With me, being a hard thrower," Burnett said, "no matter what, they're defending that heater, man. So the more confidence I have to throw that [changeup] in any count, I'm going to throw it. I'm just going to. I don't care anymore. It's going to help me and I realize that."

Burnett's next scheduled day to pitch falls on Friday, when the Blue Jays will be in Philadelphia to face the Phillies in an exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park. Instead of making that trip, though, Burnett will remain in Florida to pitch in a Minor League game as a tuneup for his first start of the regular season.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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