The scene: second inning of the Jays’ home opener. Runners on first and second and a 3-2 count. A.J. Burnett is right back where he was in his first atrocious start- in a bit of a bind without the other team touching anything he’s thrown so far. It’s a big pitch, the difference between having the bases loaded and 1 out, and runners on first and second with two away (which according to that dorky graph from last post, amounts to 1.2 runs scored on average!). A.J. does what he does best and uncorks his fastest pitch of the night- a 99 mph heater right at Ryan Shealy’s (he of the .105 average) head. It was more likely poor Ryan was going to die of a heart attack than strike out swinging.
One pitch in the dirt (and one pitcher forgetting to cover home plate) later, Arnsberg is out to talk to Burnett. What nugget of wisdom does he pass along? According to Burnett:
‘Hey, remember, you can pitch. You don’t have to throw. Just make your pitches and let your arm work with natural ability.’
Which I’m sure is pretty much what he’s been telling him every day, every minute, every hour that he’s been his coach on the Marlins and Jays. Which is is pretty much what every scout, hack writer, and nearsighted fan has been opining about Burnett for his career. PITCH, DON’T THROW. The result? Burnett starts locating low and at a mere 95-96, and gets the double play to get out of the inning. The rest is history. Although he loads the freaking bases with another 2 walks the next inning (emboldened by a leadoff K, perhaps?), after throwing 65 pitches through 3 innings, he makes it through 6 2/3 with a really good line- 5 k’s, 3 hits, 1 run, and exits to a standing ovation.
“I made a pitch and got the double play. After that I calmed down and reminded myself that I could pitch,” Burnett said. “I don’t have to go out there and throw 99 (m.p.h.) every time.”
This might sound like interesting insight coming from anyone else. But A.J.? It just sounds like a bad joke. Wasn’t he going on about how he was learning from Halladay how to pitch smart and be economical last year? Wasn’t he throwing changeups and pitching backwards in spring training? Didn’t Arsberg point out that he’s actually one of the best ground ball pitchers in the league? Wasn’t Zaun shaking his head and chuckling at how he started last year with the Jays?
“Early on, I think he had the attitude that he wanted to go out there and strike everybody out,” Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun said.
Nope. Not to complain about what was a great bounce back start, but get ready for a bumpy ride this season because despite encouraging signs to the contrary, A.J. is still in love with his tremendous stuff and living in la-la land (and his changeup is nowhere to be seen). Oh well, at least he’s honest:
“There’s time I pitch to contact, but I’m trying to strike everybody out. I’m not going to lie.”