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Burnett ready to teach his own pitching lessons

Burnett ready to teach his own pitching lessons
When A.J. Burnett signed with the Yankees , he called Roy Halladay to thank the Blue Jays ace for helping him mature as a pitcher during his three years in Toronto.

Halladay's response caught Burnett by surprise.

Although Burnett thought of himself as the apprentice in the teacher-student relationship, Halladay learned a thing or two from his teammate as well, helping make the former American League Cy Young Award winner an even better pitcher.

"He said, 'Thanks; I've learned a lot from you, too,'" Burnett said. "I kind of laughed and said, 'What did you learn from me, dude?' He said, 'I learned to relax a little bit in between starts.' It goes both ways."

The two will match up tonight at the Rogers Centre in the first meeting of the season between the underachieving Yankees and the first-place Blue Jays. Burnett is looking to get the 15-16 Bombers back to .500 after they took two of three from the Orioles this past weekend in Baltimore.

"I knew there would be a time in five years that I would get there," Burnett said. "But I never expected that I'd match up against Harry the first time back. It's going to be fun."

The fact that Burnett refers to his former teammate as Harry - his given name is Harry Leroy Halladay - tells you everything about their relationship. The two still exchange text messages each time the other one pitches, but they won't need to text after tonight's game to find out how the other one threw.

"It was a good relationship and I always wish him the best," Burnett said, quickly adding, "except for Tuesday."

Burnett has been solid - but not spectacular - in his first six starts this season, giving up three runs or fewer in five of those outings. Take away his disastrous outing in Boston on April 25 in which Burnett failed to hold a 6-0 lead, and his ERA drops from 5.26 to 3.86, averaging 6 1/3 innings per start.

He allowed three runs in six innings against the Rays in his last start, but the offense took him off the hook with three runs in the eighth inning before eventually losing in 10. Burnett struck out eight in that outing, giving him the feeling that he was getting close to hitting his stride.

"My last start, it was a couple of pitches as opposed to early runs," Burnett said. "For me, it's about getting out there early and setting the tone, being aggressive. I'm always attacking, but you can be too fine early. I think Joba is realizing that now."

A couple of early Blue Jays runs could be all it takes for the Yankees to find themselves out of the game tonight, as Halladay is off to another tremendous start to the season. He is 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA in seven starts, averaging more than seven innings per outing and has walked just seven and struck out 44 in 52 innings.

Burnett typically watches the Yankees' hitters instead of the opposing pitcher when he's in the dugout, but he knows that's going to be difficult to do tonight with his good friend and mentor on the hill.

"You can't help but to watch Doc," Burnett said. "He's going to be focused and so am I, so hopefully I can match everything he does. I know he's going to keep his team in the game and I plan on doing the same."

Burnett went 38-26 in his three seasons with the Blue Jays, posting a 3.94 ERA in 81 games (80 starts). Halladay won 52 games in 96 starts during their time as teammates, but no other Toronto pitcher won more than 24 games in those three years.

"It was only for three years, but I went there for a reason and I believe that reason was to get around a man like Roy Halladay," Burnett said. "To see someone that's great and gets better every time, that opens your eyes a little bit."

Burnett opted out of his contract at the end of last season, leaving two years and $24 million in Toronto to become a free agent. Several teams courted the right-hander, who ultimately chose the Yankees and their five-year, $82.5 million deal over the Braves.

The Jays were expected to struggle mightily after losing the second half of their rotation's 1-2 punch, but the emergence of pitchers such as Scott Richmond (4-1, 3.29 ERA) combined with an offense that leads the majors with 204 runs scored has helped Toronto jump out to a 22-12 start.

"When I was over there, we were supposed to be legit, but we had injuries," Burnett said. "Now, they're healthy and they're swinging good bats, so I'm not surprised."

Some of Burnett's former teammates tried to make dinner plans with him last night, but Burnett opted to hit his favorite area steakhouse with his wife and a few friends instead.

"I was like, 'I don't think so guys. You're not going to butter me up before a game,'" Burnett said. "They were good relationships, but they know that come game time, I'm not their pal anymore."

* Notes: Manager Joe Girardi recently expressed hope that Chien-Ming Wang's start tonight for Triple-A Scranton could be his final step before returning to the Yankees rotation, but general manager Brian Cashman isn't nearly that optimistic.

"I wouldn't think that he would be ready after one outing," said Cashman, who will make the trip to Scranton tonight to watch Wang pitch. "We'll see what we see. I wouldn't be surprised if he needed more." ...

Brian Bruney (elbow) threw on flat ground yesterday in Toronto, and according to Cashman, the reliever reported no problems. The Yankees hope to get Bruney on a mound shortly, then send him on a rehab assignment. ... Ian Kennedy will undergo surgery to repair an aneurysm near his right armpit today. There is no timetable for his return to action.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 13, 2009

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