Burnett strives to be less 'careless'

Burnett strives to be less 'careless'

NEW YORK -- There were a few meandering questions about his first World Series start, about the strength of the Phillies' lineup, about pitching in the same rotation as CC Sabathia. Then came the inquiry A.J. Burnett was expecting: What will it be like to start opposite Pedro Martinez?

"I knew somebody was going to ask that question," Burnett said, grinning. "I knew it."

The answer was equal parts reverence and respect, one right-handed power pitcher tipping his cap to a living legend. But Burnett did not harp on the subject, for obvious reasons. When he starts Game 2 of the World Series at 7:57 p.m. ET on Thursday, Burnett must focus on himself.

"I'm looking forward to it," Burnett said. "I'm going to prepare maybe as another game, but deep down, I know what it's about. I know how real it is, and I don't want to change it. I want to go out there knowing it's my first World Series start."

It will also be a critical World Series start for his team. Down, 1-0, in the series after losing to the Phillies, 6-1, in Wednesday's Game 1, the Yankees will be counting on Burnett to draw them even -- lest they risk heading into Philadelphia trailing by two games in this best-of-seven series.

"We need him more than ever now," said CC Sabathia, Wednesday's losing pitcher.

And the Yankees are confident that he can deliver.

Tale of the Tape: Game 2
2009 Regular Season
Overall: 9 GS, 5-1, 3.63 ERA, 37 K, 8 BB.
Overall: 33 GS, 13-9, 4.04 ERA, 195 K, 97 BB.
Key stat: Allowed 7 HRs in 44 2/3 IP.
Key stat: Led league with 97 walks and 17 wild pitches.
Postseason
2009: 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 IP, 2 H.
Career: 14 G, 12 GS, 6-2, 3.13 ERA.
2009: 3 GS, 0-0, 4.42 ERA, 4 HBP. Career: 3 GS, 0-0, 4.42 ERA, 4 HBP.
At YANKEE STADIUM
2009: No starts. Career: 16 GS, 8-4, 2.95 ERA.
2009: 16 GS, 5-3, 3.51 ERA. Career: 20 GS, 7-5, 3.39 ERA.
Against this opponent
2009: No starts. Career: 32 GS, 11-11, 3.20 ERA.
2009: 1 GS, 0-1, 7.50 ERA, 7 K, 3 HR. Career: 17 G, 16 GS, 5-8, 4.75 ERA, 13 HR.
Loves to face.: Hideki Matsui, 4-for-28.
Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez, 16-for-55, HR.
Loves to face: Pedro Feliz, 2-for-15. Hates to face: Carlos Ruiz, 3-for-3, HR.
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Freshest arm in the playoffs.
Why he'll win: Electric stuff enables him to escape jams.
Pitcher beware: Bad playoff memories in the Bronx.
Pitcher beware: Allowed 3 HRs to Phillies in May start.
Bottom line: Can he keep turning back the clock?
Bottom line: Which A.J. shows up?

"We trust A.J.," pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "A.J.'s pitched a lot of good games for us. And if he just goes in attack mode and trusts his stuff and trusts himself, he'll be fine."

Ideally, Burnett would like to find a bit more success than he did in his last start, a 7-6 Yankees loss to the Angels in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. In that game, the first five batters to face Burnett reached base, four of them scoring.

Though Burnett settled down to throw five shutout innings after that, and though the Yankees did come back to tie the game, those early runs continue to haunt Burnett.

"I won't change anything as far as my plan or my attack, just maybe not be so careless from the get go -- just throwing balls over the middle to get strike one," Burnett said.

It's a lesson Burnett also could have learned on May 22, when he faced the Phillies at Yankee Stadium and served up a leadoff homer to Jimmy Rollins on -- you guessed it -- a first-pitch fastball up in the zone. Burnett went on to give up five runs in that game, striking out seven but taking the loss.

Traditionally, Rollins has not hurt Burnett -- the shortstop has just a .256 average and that lone home run in 43 career at-bats. And few of his teammates have fared much better. Among the club's regulars with at least four career at-bats against Burnett, Chase Utley's .286 batting average is the highest.

But the Phillies have hurt Burnett at times with their power. Utley has homered off Burnett in his career; Ryan Howard has done so twice in 12 career at-bats; catcher Carlos Ruiz is 3-for-3 with a homer in his brief career off the right-hander; and Matt Stairs, always a threat to sub in against right-handed pitchers, has two home runs off Burnett in 11 at-bats.

Rollins, Ruiz and Jayson Werth all homered off Burnett in that Yankee Stadium start in May, all of them on fastballs. And so it's little surprise that Burnett was planning on reviewing the tape of that start before Wednesday's Game 1.

Pardon Burnett, though, if he finds it difficult to focus on the details. Every week in October has provided Burnett with a new first -- first postseason start, first ALCS start and now first World Series start. Despite still searching for his first postseason win, Burnett has pitched adequately through it all, displaying his trademark velocity and movement while posting a 4.42 ERA. In his first two starts, Burnett was far better, allowing three runs over a total of 12 1/3 innings.

Control issues have plagued Burnett throughout October, and they could be even more damaging in the World Series. If manager Joe Girardi does indeed have designs on using Burnett on short rest in a potential Game 5, as is the popular theory, then he cannot rack up a high pitch count early in Game 2.

Then there is the issue of Martinez, who on Wednesday called himself "at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium." Though Burnett will not personally pitch to Martinez in Game 2, he will be starting opposite the future Hall of Famer. And though he may not need to be as perfect as he would have to be against, say, Cliff Lee for example, Burnett knows there's an awfully good chance Martinez will keep the Phillies in the game.

Burnett must do the same for the Yankees, on the biggest stage and in the most electric atmosphere he has seen.

"I'm looking forward to going up against him," Burnett said of facing Martinez. "I know what he's all about. I've seen him pitch, and he's going to bring a lot of excitement here tomorrow night. I think everybody in the world knows what he can do in the postseason this year, or in the past, or whenever he takes the ball. It's going to be something I'll remember for a long time."

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