Burnett likes what Phillies bring to table in '14
Veteran right-hander pleased with his new club's intensity, desire to win
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It has been exactly two weeks since the Phillies introduced A.J. Burnett as their newest pitcher.
Since then it has been a series of bullpen sessions, drills on the field and just five Grapefruit League games, so it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions about how the Phillies will play once the season begins on March 31 in Texas. But Burnett, who allowed one run in two innings in his Phillies debut on Sunday against the Pirates at Bright House Field, likes what he sees.
"I think guys are real tired of not winning over here, from what I can hear and see," Burnett said. "So you have a lot of guys ready to show up, ready to stay healthy the best they can and put a good team on the field every day.
"What I see is intensity out there, good times in the locker room, good preparation. Guys seem like they do a good job of preparing. In the dugout guys are pulling for each other. They expect to win."
Burnett is here to help that. The Phillies have concerns about their starting pitching depth, and they would be in far worse shape had they not signed the right-hander to a one-year, $16 million contract. Cole Hamels is expected to open the season on the disabled list, although everybody in camp seems to expect him to miss no more than a start or two.
But that leaves only Burnett, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez as the locks for the rotation. Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin entered camp as candidates, but Pettibone is behind schedule because of a shoulder issue and Martin will not throw for three weeks because of a strained right shoulder capsule and triceps.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who signed a $12 million contract in August, has plenty to improve upon after not pitching for the past two years.
Burnett should provide stability until Hamels returns.
Burnett allowed one hit -- one run and hit two batters while striking out one on Sunday. He pitched for the Pirates the past two seasons, so it was an interesting coincidence he made his Phillies debut against them.
"I might have planned it that way," he joked.
Phillies fans are less interested in his departure from the Pirates and more interested in his ability to replicate the success he had the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. He went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts the past two seasons. Last year, Burnett led the National League, averaging 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He averaged 7.7 the previous three seasons.
"I don't know. Making good pitches?" said Burnett, when asked why he experienced the jump in strikeouts. "That's all I've got. Getting ahead. Strike one is big. My two-seamer played a lot. I used to be a four-seam, hook guy. You pretty much knew what was coming when I got ahead in the count -- hook. Now, I've got a couple other weapons. I think the two-seamer inside to lefties helped out a lot, too. It gets them off the plate."
Burnett said he incorporated a two-seam fastball into his repertoire at the behest of catcher Rod Barajas, who caught Burnett with the Blue Jays in 2008 and Pirates in '12.
"Blame it on Rod," Burnett said. "He made Doc [Roy Halladay] get to both sides of the plate with his sinker and cutter, and it made him better. He's one of those guys when you talk to, you listen. We have a good relationship. He said you're a four-seam, two-seam guy, both sides of the plate. I got back with him in Pittsburgh and started throwing it again. Pitchers are stubborn. They don't listen."
Burnett hopes to develop a similarly positive relationship with Carlos Ruiz. Burnett said he looked forward to finally throwing to Ruiz in a game on Sunday.
"Early in my career, I didn't watch a lot, but as I got older, and being around Doc, of course, you start paying attention," Burnett said. "He's one of the guys I've watched for five or six years now. You pick up on those guys. Russell [Martin] was the same way. You watch them and think it would be fun to throw to those guys, so it was something I've been looking forward to."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.