The personality of inconsistencies in pitching sometimes go to extreme polar opposites of the spectrum. In A.J. Burnett's case that would be a sensible way to describe his second season in pinstripes.
To get back to the high end where stuff translates to results, sometimes a pitcher needs to find a middle ground and in Burnett's case, three runs and six hits to go along with eight strikeouts in six innings is a perfect jumping off point.
The three runs allowed were his fewest since August 15 at Kansas City and it marked the 14th time in 27 starts Burnett gave up three or less. The eight strikeouts were his most striking out seven July 28 at Cleveland and equaled his season high.
The obvious key to Burnett's first win since that night in Cleveland was derived from the curve, which was thrown for strike 24 out of 36 times. It was Burnett's biggest use of the curve since throwing 37 in his last victory.
"I believe so," Burnett said when asked if establishing it early helps. "There's been games in the past where I go 11 or 12 pitches in where you see the first one and that was normally out of the stretch with a runner on. So getting it going early does help a lot."
On Friday, Burnett threw 22 curveballs and the first did not appear until the ninth pitch of the game with a runner on. Last night the curve made its first appearance on the second and third pitches to Coco Crisp in the top of the first. That pitch set up two fastballs and resulted in the at-bat being a called strike three.
It next appeared on the first pitch to Kurt Suzuki, which was ball one in an at-bat that turned out to be a base hit. Two more curves were thrown to Jack Cust, who struck out on the fastball.
In the second, Burnett went through the A's in four minutes. He threw two curves to Mark Ellis and two more to Jeff Larish that broke inside and resulted in a swinging strike three.
The third took just two minutes and one curve was thrown this time to Daric Barton, who took ball one before being retired.
The fourth was where things became a little dicey as a 4-0 lead turned to 4-2 when Kevin Kouzmanoff crushed a 2-0 fastball to right field. Before allowing his first two runs, he put on an impressive display against Cust by throwing three consecutive curves before using the sinker as a strikeout pitch. Burnett threw three more curves to Ellis, who singled but Burnett stayed with the pitch and retired Larish on a double play.
The fifth was also a little shaky but Burnett used the curve for a swinging strikeout of Cliff Pennington and threw four to Crisp, whose at-bat ended with a run-scoring groundout. The longest at-bat belonged to Barton, who saw two curves, including one which was ball four and was immediately preceded by a long foul ball that deflected off the foul pole in left. With the tying run on, Burnett then threw two curves to Suzuki before showing his fourth changeup that resulted in a fly ball to left field.
Burnett's final inning saw him throw it three straight times to Kouzmanoff, who swung at two before looking at an inside strike three. Ellis saw three curves and singled but Burnett made his final two pitches curveballs and Larish swung at both, striking out an outside pitch that dropped below the knees.
"I'm always going to throw it," Burnett said. "It's a swing and miss pitch but the more I throw it for a strike it can only help out."
"I know from facing him -- when he's throwing his breaking ball for strikes, he's pretty tough," Derek Jeter said. "This was a step in the right direction for him."
Now it comes down to repetition. Practice in side sessions is all about repetition and so is what a pitcher does in a game setting. That is why you always hear things like repeat the arm angle or repeat the delivery.
"I saw him repeat his delivery, his balance was very good, his timing was tremendous," pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
Now all the Yankees need Burnett to do is repeat it five days from now.