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yankees countdown

Yankees Countdown: No. 6, A.J. Burnett

The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Yankees players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 6, pitcher A.J. Burnett.

This isn't technically about A.J. Burnett, but this feels like an appropriate place to say it: We fear for the future of Burnett's walk-off pie-throwing tradition. We're afraid that what started as something fun-enough and organic will turn into the Reddi-wip Walk-Off Pie Toss, Brought to You by Crisco. Perhaps we're just not used to the Yankees associating themselves with the concept of fun.

Anyway, when Burnett isn't playing the role of Soupy Sales's spiritual descendant, he finds time to be the No. 2 man in the Yankees' rotation. Burnett was no sure thing when the Yankees signed him: He'd never won more than twelve games in a season until the year before the Yankees snapped him up, during which he won eighteen. (For the record, the same could have been said for Carl Pavano. And Burnett's no stranger to injuries, either.) But in a healthy 2009, Burnett turned in a typically solid season: a 13–9 record in 33 starts with a team-best 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Burnett can be frustrating at times — see his 36-pitch fifth inning during game two of the ALCS, when Jose Molina wore out the grass between home plate and the mound — but he'll also flirt with a no-hitter a couple of times each year to balance it out. On his list of things to work on this season: Learning to throw to Jorge Posada, at least sometimes, and making sure he never repeats this just-a-bit-outside pitch ever again.

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Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images