Thursday, December 25, 2014

A.J. Burnett arrives in Clearwater

The Phillies received a big boost to their starting rotation when A.J. Burnett put on the team's uniform for the first time. On Sunday, Burnett explained why he decided to come to Philadelphia.

A.J. Burnett arrives in Clearwater

Phillies pitcher A.J. Burnett. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Phillies pitcher A.J. Burnett. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who is attempting to extend the window of opportunity while the likes of Chase Utley and Cliff Lee are under contract, called the addition of A.J. Burnett a "perfect fit."

Sitting two seats to Amaro's left, manager Ryne Sandberg was downright giddy. There's nothing a major league manager likes better than dependable starting pitcher, and now Sandberg has a trustworthy veteran to add to Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

"A beautiful thing," is how Sandberg described seeing Burnett in a Phillies uniform, sitting in between him and Amaro.

"He's a belated Christmas present and Valentine's Day present that I've been waiting for," Sandberg said. "A little late, but I'll take it. He's a difference maker for us. He's a big piece."

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The trio answered over 20 minutes of questions on the day Burnett's one-year, $16 million deal became official in Clearwater, Fla. 

Here are the highlights from Burnett:

Q: You said earlier this offseason it was go back to Pittsburgh or retire - what changed?

Burnett: (Earlier this winter) that is where I was at. It was a long year, and it was a great year, a fun year, but when I said that at the time, that's where I was with my family and with my thoughts. I did not stick to that obviously, but as January crept around and then February, you start getting that itch to throw again, and then talking to my wife, talking to my family, I wasn't ready to go. Things worked out where I was able to pick a place where -- the decision I made took forever because of my family. That would be the reason I wouldn't play, because I've got a 12-year-old and a nine-year-old and a wife, and boys crave their dad at this time in their life. That's one of the reasons why I'm here four days late, because it took me a while to make up my mind. The opportunity came where I was able to do that and be closer to them, a hop skip and a jump from where I live. It was a no brainer, to make them happy.

 

Q: And Philly over Pittsburgh?

Burnett: It was tough. It was very tough. I wouldn't take anything from Pittsburgh: I had a great two years there. They gave me an opportunity where a lot of people were counting me out. It kind of revived me. That city took me in like I've never been taken in before in my whole career, and that will never be forgotten. The opportunity came with Ruben and the Phillies where, I have a little history, I grew up with a lot of these guys when I was with the Marlins and watching them play, and to be able to share a locker room and to be in this organization -- I've been to Philly when they're winning, and it's unbelievable. I'm just real pleased and honored to have an opportunity to play again and do what I love and then again to be real close to the ones I love.

 

Q: You helped beat the Phillies in '09 World Series, winning Game 2 with Yankees down a game in the series. One of your most memorable games?

Burnett: It goes back to playing against these guys when they were younger and I was younger and we were both there together. They did get me pretty good I think when I came back through though. That’s part of the game and just shows you the kind of guys they have here. I pitched a pretty good game against them and they came back and did what they did. That’s kind of who you want to pitch for. That was one of the highlights of my career for sure.

 

Q: Curious about the situation here? Team isn't getting any younger, players are hurt, back-to-back subpar seasons.

Burnett: I pay attention and health seemed to be the thing last year. So with guys healthy I think this team can put up against anybody. Then you add the three starters, three top of the line guys we’ve got it’s an extra two wins a series you plan on taking with those guys you’re throwing up every day, so the family was the main decision, but on the other hand I wasn’t just going to play to play. I went to an organization that has a history and that obviously does what they want and can do to win.

 

Q: After leaving New York and getting to Pittsburgh your numbers really improved. What happened?

Burnett: I found who I was again. I went there -- and I'd never put myself as a Halladay (who he pitched with in Toronto)  -- but as far as a mentor and player-relationship-wise, that's what I became over there. I never really looked at myself as that guy, but as soon as I walked in that door, that's who I was. I had no say in the matter, and it showed me who I could have been for a long time, and wasn't. And it brought out a lot of me that wasn't there (before). I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around sideways, blindfolded, it didn't matter as long as I got guys out. That meant a lot to be able to just go out and pitch and not worry about anything else."

 

Q: What were you beginning to do like Halladay?

Burnett: Coming up I really didn't watch video, and I threw hard and that's all I really worried about. Then you get around someone who lives it, loves it. Roy Halladay made me realize what I'm here for. It's not just to be A.J. in the major leagues and be a Major League Baseball player. It's about helping the young kids, leading by example, doing more when maybe you want to do less. The main thing I learned from Roy was the four days between starts. It's hard as a young guy to stay focused, watch games and be in everything. When I saw him and everything he did, I realized my job was about more than what I do every fifth day."

 

Q: And now you're basically replacing Halladay in the rotation here?

Burnett: There is no replacing Roy Halladay, let's start with that right there. I've had nothing but positive to say about him in the past, and same with the future. He's his own breed. I'm just looking forward to making an impact, making a difference. One of the things I think I learned in 2012 and even in '09 is that I am a difference maker and I am that guy. I look forward to coming here and showing these guys what I'm about.

 

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