Monday, April 12, 2010

Burnett Makes It A Solid First Week

As Yankees fans, we know not to make too big of a deal about what happens in April, especially the first week.

We've seen this team get out of the gates slowly, yet still make the playoffs. Heck, last year the Yankees started 13-15 and still won 103 regular season games and their 27th World Championship.

Still it's nice to get off to a good start, and taking each of the first two series against the Red Sox and Rays -- the two teams the Yankees figure to be battling for the AL East and/or the wild card -- makes this a particularly good first week.

After a shaky start Sunday, A.J. Burnett got back on track, Jorge Posada hit a big two-run home run and Curtis Granderson did a little bit of everything to lead the Yankees to a 7-3 victory over the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., propelling New York the series win and a 4-2 first week.

“You try to win every series,” Joe Girardi told the Journal News. “That’s our goal going in. I don’t think you can be satisfied being even. Some people might say you hung in on a tough road trip, but our goal was to win both series.”

But early on it seemed as if the Yankees would heading back to New York and their home opener at 3-3, as Burnett began the game by allowing two runs on two hits, two stolen bases, a walk and a sacrifice bunt. Burnett clearly did not trust his stuff and it looked like for all the world that the Yankees would be run out of Tropicana Field.

And a year ago, that might have been the case. Last season we saw that when Burnett didn't think he had a good fastball or curve, he'd struggle ... typically leading to friction with Posada over pitch selection and usually an ugly outing. He was that fragile.

Getty Images
That didn't happen Sunday. After Burnett walked Evan Longoria to put runners on first and third with one out and a run in, pitching coach Dave Eiland came to the mound, where he and Posada told the righthander that he had good stuff, to trust his pitches and attack the hitters.

That always solid advice, but on this day, it sunk in. Burnett got Carlos Pena to groundout, bringing in a run to make it 2-0, and then ended the inning by getting B.J. Upton to fly to center.

The only other trouble Burnett ran into the rest of the way was in the sixth, when he escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam by getting Upton to pop to Mark Teixeira.

Burnett's line ended up looking quite good as he allowed just the two runs on six hits and three walks in seven innings. He struck out just one, threw 49 of 92 pitches for strikes, and effectively spotted his newly developed changeup.

But perhaps the most important development was the way Burnett and Posada worked together. There was no evidence of the discord that plagued the pair at times last season. Burnett seemed to trust Posada more and it showed as the game wore on.

Most importantly, by trusting his stuff and Posada, Burnett was able to limit the damage and give his offense a chance -- and really, with that offense, that's all a Yankees pitcher has to do.

Associated Press
The Yankees cut the deficit in half in the second as Alex Rodriguez led off with a single, advanced to second on Robinson Cano's groundout and scored on Granderson's two-out double.

But that was just the beginning for Granderson. While we saw just how much power Granderson has in the first series in Boston, Sunday we saw just how versatile and well-rounded the center fielder is.

He flash some leather in the fifth. After Pat Burrell singled to lead off, Granderson made a diving catch of a sinking, hit-and-run liner by Dionner Navarro, popped to his feet quickly and gunned out Burrell at first for the double play.

That set the stage for Posada in the sixth. Cano's one-out double chased stater James Shields, who ended up allowing two runs on four hits and three walks and five strikeouts in 5-1/3 innings.

Associated Press
Unfortunately for the Rays, it still looks as if their bullpen remains their biggest weakness as Randy Choate came on and promptly severed up a meatball for Posada to crush into the stands in left to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

Granderson then used his legs to produce another run. He followed Posada's homer with a single to left, stole second, took third on a soft tapper by Nick Swisher up the first base line and scored when pitch in the dirt squirted away from Navarro to make it 4-2.

The Yankees then pounded the Rays' weak bullpen. A-Rod crushed a two-run double to left in the seventh and against Lance Cormier and Swisher crushed a homer to right against Andy Sonnanstine in the eighth.

And just like that, the Yankees were on their way to the series win and as good a first week as could be expected.

Up Next
Tuesday, home opener vs. Angels, 1:05 p.m., YES, MLB
Ervin Santana (0-1, 6.00 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (0-0, 1.50)
The Yankees will receive their World Series rings, as will Hideki Matsui, who returns to Yankee Stadium for the first time since signing with Angels in the offseason.

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