Commentary

Eiland's return should help Burnett

Yankees pitcher says recent struggles can be corrected with return of coach

Updated: July 1, 2010, 9:26 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett said there were too many voices in his head. As he tried to make things right with pitching coach Dave Eiland gone, Burnett had trouble deciphering what was good advice and what wasn't.

With bullpen coach Mike Harkey in charge, Burnett says he wasn't strong enough to stick to his core beliefs and he broke down on the mound to the point that he had statistically the worst month (0-5, 11.35 ERA) ever for a Yankees starter.

Now, Eiland is back -- and Burnett hopes he is too. He worked with Eiland on Wednesday in preparation for his start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Burnett and Dave Eiland
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesA.J. Burnett is all smiles now that pitching coach Dave Eiland is back by his side. Eiland had left the team to handle what he said was a family matter.

"I felt like my last two, three bullpens were what everybody else wanted me to do and try, not what A.J. wanted to do," Burnett said. "Sometimes you've got to be selfish and go to the pen and tell them what we're going to do, and that's the way we did it."

Burnett started the year well but has gotten progressively worse. He won his first three decisions with a 2.43 ERA in five starts. Then, in May, he was 3-2 with a 4.03 ERA. June was an abomination.

"I started out really good doing the things I do," Burnett said. "And then when you start struggling, you want to get help, you want to try things that people suggest instead of looking back at how you were successful and doing it that way. It was a matter of getting back to what we did in April.

"When you're scuffling like that, you want to get help. You don't want to block somebody out and say, 'I can figure this out on my own,' because obviously that wasn't the case. So you try things. You get different opinions and some stick, some don't. I went back to square one and it went pretty good."

The numbers, provided by ESPN Stats & Information, demonstrate that the need to go back to the basics was vital. While the fastball has been off, the devastating curveball is a pitch that has also been absent from Burnett's arsenal.

In April and May, he was throwing more than 17 percent of his curveballs knee-high, middle of the plate. In June, it was 9.4 percent. Basically, one out of six were knee-bucklers in the first two months, while one out of 11 buckled knees in June.

With the curveball not as big of a threat and his fastball being hit at a .356 clip in June compared to .308 before, batters have smacked Burnett around. The overall June average is .357, which is nearly 100 points worse than the .260 in April and May. This combined with his nearly seven walks a game (compared to three per in the first three months) has been disaster stew.

Burnett said his delivery has been too quick. Ideally, he said he needs to pause in the midst of his delivery. If he doesn't have that, then he thinks he won't have success locating.

To his credit, Burnett -- with all the different voices quieting -- thinks he has solved his problems. If not, he will hear a lot more voices at Yankee Stadium and they will be saying one thing loud and clear: "Boo."

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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