New York Yankees starting pitcher A.J. Burnett plans on incorporating a changeup into his arsenal in the hopes that it improves his performance on the mound.
Burnett is coming off a season in which he posted a 13-9 record over 207 innings with a 4.04 ERA in his first year as a Yankee.
Burnett isn't looking to rest on his laurels, though. After years of throwing his changeup simply as a third or fourth option, he's working hard to bring it up to speed with his other pitches.
Burnett tossed the change only 3.1 percent of the time in 2009, a career low — although his career high of 9.9 percent in 2005 is low as well. To this point of his career, his changeup has been a decidedly below-average pitch that hitters tend to hammer.
His mid-90s fastball is strong, but his bread-and-butter pitch is his curveball, which has been called the best in the major leagues by several sources. That's all he's had at his disposal to get major-league hitters out — two pitches.
Relying on two pitches as a starting pitcher is often an exercise in futility because hitters don't have to stretch their imaginations too much to predict what's coming. Compounding things is the ability to easily differentiate between the fastball and curve. Burnett has been able to survive to date due to his two pitches — fastball and curve — rating so highly. As he ages (he just turned 33), however, and his fastball loses its effectiveness, adding another option becomes of paramount importance.
"It's going to be a big pitch I think," Burnett told The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. "Jorge [Posada]
and I talk more about when to use it, when not to use it. It's going to
be key, especially on those days when the hook isn't working."
Watching CC Sabathia use his changeup effectively in 2009 made Burnett realize how important it was to further develop the pitch. Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland demurred, telling Burnett to at least wait until after the season to incorporate the change.
"When you see teams in your division 18 times, it's nice to be able to give them different looks," Girardi said.
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