Burnett capitalizing on fresh start in Pittsburgh

Burnett capitalizing on fresh start in Pittsburgh

Burnett capitalizing on fresh start in Pittsburgh
A.J. Burnett really knows how to win friends and influence people, doesn't he?

In a little over four months as a member of the Pirates, the 35-year-old hurler has gone 14-3, with a 3.19 ERA in 20 starts. He has established himself as the ace of the pitching staff. What's more, the savvy veteran's leadership skills -- and his mere presence -- have contributed greatly to Pittsburgh staying firmly in the hunt for a playoff berth.

Whether you're a fan or a teammate, what's not to love about that?

Allan James Burnett was a 13-game winner for the Yankees' World Series championship squad in 2009, but his last two seasons in The Bronx were less than satisfying as he went a combined 21-26, while posting an ERA above 5.00 both years. When the Pirates acquired him from New York in exchange for a pair of Minor Leaguers, Burnett embraced the opportunity to start anew with manager Clint Hurdle's ballclub.

"I knew the Pirates wanted me really badly, and I figured after my last two years in New York that I could only do better than that," Burnett said. "I knew I could put up better numbers and win more ballgames than I did the past two years. It was a fresh start and I accepted the way it all went down. I had a great time in New York. I got my championship. I played with some great Hall of Fame guys and some good teammates, but I wasn't faring very well there. I just wasn't pitching well."

That certainly hasn't been the case this year. Burnett has been dominant as a Pirate, and he provided the best example of that on July 31, when he tossed a one-hitter in a 5-0 triumph over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He struck out eight batters in that contest, and the only hit he surrendered was a single by pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas with two outs in the eighth inning.

During Hurdle's postgame session with the media that night, he said: "That was one of the best games I've seen pitched -- ever."

Burnett's next time out, on Sunday, he beat the hottest team in baseball -- the Cincinnati Reds -- by a score of 6-2 at Great American Ball Park. He allowed only three hits and struck out seven in 8 2/3 innings, and was named the National League Player of the Week the next day in recognition of his superb back-to-back road victories.

Burnett -- who has now reached double figures in wins in each of the past eight seasons -- would like nothing more than to continue to pitch well and help the Pirates land in the playoffs. When he was asked what sticks out in his mind most about his postseason experiences with the Yankees, he said: "The postseason is something you can't explain. It's what we all play for. All of the tricks come out of the bag in the postseason. It's where you want to be. There's nothing better than being on the mound with a packed house in the playoffs, trying to get your team to the next level. I got my ring in '09 and I pitched a couple big postseason games after that for the Yankees, and I hope to do the same for this squad."

Burnett and his wife Karen have two sons -- 11-year-old Allan Jr. and 8-year-old Ashton -- and 14 years into Burnett's big league career, he knows how to maintain the proper balance between work and home. But what about the boys? Do they think it's cool that their Dad is among the Major League leaders in victories this year? Or is he just Dad to them?

"I'm just Dad -- definitely," Burnett said. "But they hear about it at school a lot, so I think they realize a lot of kids don't get to come to a big league field every day, or come and watch their Dad play baseball. At the end of the day when I go home, I leave everything here [at the ballpark] though. The last thing they want to do when I come home is talk about baseball. So it's a good break. You've got to have that separation between the two."

The excellent season Burnett is putting together has helped make becoming a Pirate an enjoyable experience, but he refuses to take much credit for the type of season his new ballclub is having.

"I knew they played really well last year and that they had a chance to be good this year," Burnett said. "I mentioned this back in the spring, but when you're in first place after four months, you're a good ballclub. If you're in first place for a month, maybe you played good ball for that month and that was it. But these guys played good for half a season plus. Maybe I didn't expect this, I think we're exceeding a lot of people's expectations, but I knew I was going to a place where there was a chance we could go to the playoffs.

"I don't know about the whole ace thing. Any time any of us take the mound, it's our day to be that ace. You pass the baton to the next guy. I'm just having fun. I just came here to try and win games, but the way these guys accepted me from day one has really made it a very easy switch."

Jim Lachimia is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.