Burnett lights-out vs. KC in return
Righty picks up first win since May 22 in dominant performance
KANSAS CITY -- Oft-injured A.J. Burnett hadn't pitched since June 28. Big deal.
The hard-firing right-hander looked to be in peak form as he shut down the Royals by a score of 4-1 on Sunday. Only an eighth-inning home run by Alex Gordon marred an otherwise near-flawless pitching performance.
"It was fun to get back out there," Burnett said.
"He had it all going," manager John Gibbons said, "When he's on, he's as good as anybody in the game."
Catcher Gregg Zaun said Burnett mixed his pitches really well. Zaun said the fastball held its line all night, so when he was going away, he was either right on target or he missed away. When he was going in, he was either right there or missing in.
"He didn't miss out over the plate but one time," Zaun said.
Burnett said he had all of his pitches working. The pitch Gordon hit was a changeup. "It didn't really change much, except for direction," he joked.
Burnett pitched 7 1/3 innings and allowed only two other hits before giving up the Gordon dinger. Equally impressive, he worked into the eighth with only 90 pitches.
"That was pretty efficient for him," Zaun said. "He's one of those guys who strikes out a lot of guys, and that usually runs the pitch total up."
Zaun said the key was keeping the ball down in the zone and getting a lot of ground-ball outs -- 14 to be exact. Plus, Burnett was still throwing in the mid-90s when he retired for the evening.
"I didn't try to overdo it," Burnett said. "If I go all out, I probably would have went two innings."
In the middle innings he retired 13 consecutive batters, mostly on ground balls. The win evened his record at 6-6 and dropped his ERA to 4.09. He had spent most of the last two months on the disabled list. But on Sunday night, he wouldn't have to worry about his shoulder tightening up because of the weather.
Yes, the temperature was pushing 38 at game time. That's what the Canadians call it in degrees Celsius, the metric version. You've got to admit that sounds a whole lot better than the American version, 100 degrees Fahrenheit, known around Kansas City as "August."
The temperature had actually dropped a few degrees at the rare Sunday 6:10 CT game time. Burnett said he wasn't really trying to spare pitches and induce ground balls as opposed to strikeouts.
"I was just trying not to die," he said. "I tried to pace myself as much as I can and not overthrow it too much."
He also said he woke up in the morning and tried to convince himself it wasn't really hot, something the Arkansas native noted, is "very difficult to do." Burnett said his shoulder felt great throughout the game.
"When your arm is right, your mind is right," he said. "I felt good in my last rehab start, and I don't think about my arm at all."
Meanwhile back at the plate, the offense came out of its recent doldrums with 12 hits. On the downside, the Blue Jays left 13 men stranded.
Gibbons was undaunted. "Bottom line, [we] won the game, that's all that matters," the manager said.
Toronto left five men on in the first two innings. Alex Rios scored the first run in the third when he tripled into the left-field corner and came home on Vernon Wells' sac fly.
The Jays added two more in the fourth when Lyle Overbay doubled home Zaun and Matt Stairs. Zaun scored the final run in the sixth when he doubled, advanced to second on a bunt and came home on Stairs' flyout. Overbay led the hitting attack with two doubles and a single. But for this night, the pitching was the star.
Toronto has been riding the pitching of young guns Shawn Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch. The trio plus the ever-reliable Roy Halladay have led the Blue Jays to a 3.61 ERA, the best in the Majors since July 1.
Now they've added Burnett.
"He's gonna give us a boost," Gibbons said. "He's making a strong rotation even stronger."
Zaun added, "A.J. is one of those guys that when he's one his game, he's a legitimate [No.] 1-2 on any ballclub." He said it's just a matter of Burnett harnessing that stuff on a consistent basis.
"If you give him a three- or four-run cushion, the game should be over," his catcher said.
No one has ever questioned Burnett's ability. Having him stay off the DL is another matter. He's made at least one trip there every season since 2000. If the Blue Jays are going to make a run at the American League Wild Card, they will need his strong right arm in the rotation.
Max Utsley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.