Burnett finds the tweak that works
Sunday game vs. Tigers shows progress against right-handed hitters
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Sean Burnett has taken a step back to his left.
After making a midseason adjustment last year as to where he stood on the pitching rubber, the left-hander has decided to revert to his natural placement on the mound. The reasoning for the move is quite simple: Burnett is hopeful that doing so will make him more successful against right-handed hitters.
It was last June when, at the suggestion of then-pitching coach Jeff Andrews, Burnett moved his feet all the way to the end of the third-base side of the rubber. At the time, he was struggling mightily out of the bullpen, having given up 12 earned runs and 15 walks in just 14 1/3 innings since being called up.
Moving a little bit to his right worked wonders, and Burnett actually credited much of his second-half success to the adjustment.
"I just needed to try something different," Burnett said. "For the first time in my life I was just so bad and I had trouble throwing strikes. It was probably more mental than anything."
But while the move did help Burnett find some consistency in throwing strikes, it also lessened his deception against right-handers. It also minimized the effectiveness of his changeup, especially against right-handed hitters. At the end of the season, right-handed hitters had a .328 average against him.
Because the Pirates don't want Burnett to develop simply as a left-handed specialist, the key this spring has been to try and find the necessary adjustments to improve his results against right-handed hitters. Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan suggested Burnett move back to his natural position on the rubber, and Burnett has done so in both of his two Grapefruit League appearances.
"I hadn't practiced it since last year at the All-Star break, but it's something I've done my whole career that I liked, and I figured I could probably fix it," he said. "It just seems easier to me. That's my comfort zone."
The move has given Burnett a better arm angle against right-handed hitters, and he said it has already improved his changeup pitch. There have also already been tangible signs that the adjustment is working.
After pitching a scoreless inning on Thursday, Burnett made his second appearance on Sunday. Though he allowed a home run and a walk in his two innings of work, the six right-handed hitters he faced in the lineup went a combined 0-for-5 against him.
Not only are the results there, but Burnett has already been encouraged by the resurgence of a pitch that he had once relied on so heavily.
"My changeup was my best pitch coming up through the Minor Leagues and, after surgery, I kind of lost some of my feel," Burnett said. "Hopefully, I can keep working on it and it will continue to get better."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.