NEW YORK -- A diversified repertoire from starter A.J. Burnett yielded a result that is now a 10-year tradition in the Bronx -- taking a home series from the Twins.
Behind another effective start from Burnett (2-0) and a methodical -- if not powerful -- offense, the Yankees defeated the Twins, 4-3, on a cool Thursday in the Bronx. The Yankees took the rubber game of a rain-shortened three-game set and continued their dominance over the reigning American League Central champions.
Burnett, who pitched through an illness to defeat the Tigers on Saturday, lasted six innings against the Twins, allowing two runs, walking two and striking out five. The bullpen, which wasted a four-run eighth-inning lead in Tuesday's loss, did the rest, allowing an unearned run in the final three innings.
"He worked his fastball good, got a lot of strikes with his fastball, got ahead in the count with it," said catcher Russell Martin of Burnett. "But I think his best pitch today was his changeup. When he fell behind in the counts, he could throw it to lefties. He keeps his changeup down, so it works well with his fastball."
"It gave them something else to look at, and that's the importance of having another pitch," manager Joe Girardi said of Burnett's changeup. "You can't maybe sit on one pitch. Now you've got something slow going away from you as opposed to coming in to you against those left-handed hitters, and I thought that made a difference."
Burnett, who has been known to rely only on his fastball and inconsistent curveball, had three options working Thursday. He may have even surprised himself and pitching coach Larry Rothschild when he used the change behind in the count on Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
"I came in and I asked Larry, 'Did I throw Mauer a 3-1 changeup?'" Burnett said "And I did. I've said all along it's a big pitch for me, and hopefully this year I can use it more."
The Yankees hit 13 home runs in their first five games, but they scored all four runs Thursday without leaving the yard. They opened the scoring in the third inning against Francisco Liriano (0-2) without the benefit of a base hit. Brett Gardner started the inning with a walk and, with Derek Jeter facing a 3-0 pitch, stole second base. On the next pitch, Jeter hit a ground ball to shortstop that likely would have forced Gardner at second base. Instead, Gardner went to third and scored when Nick Swisher hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field.
"One of the reasons we love having Gardy in the lineup so much is because he can do that," Girardi said. "It doesn't take much to score a run if he gets on with no one out. He can get to third pretty quickly, and that's what he did today."
After Burnett put them behind by allowing two runs in the top of the fourth, the Yankees struck back with three in the bottom of the inning. Alex Rodriguez led off with a walk, and Robinson Cano singled. After a strikeout by Jorge Posada, Andruw Jones, playing left field against the left-handed Liriano, doubled home the tying run. Martin knocked in a run on an RBI groundout, and Gardner plated the fourth Yankees run with a single.
"I thought Liriano's stuff was outstanding today," Girardi said. "Watching him you knew he wasn't giving up a ton of runs, and we took advantage."
Burnett left with the Yankees leading, 4-2, and the team received an inning each from Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano -- who walked three batters in Tuesday's loss -- and Mariano Rivera. Chamberlain surrendered an unearned run, Soriano worked around a leadoff single by Mauer, and Rivera worked a perfect ninth inning.
"Just his command," Girardi said when asked of the difference between Soriano's last two outings. "The other day we saw something that I didn't see from him last year. For whatever reason, he walked three people. But his command was what we were accustomed to seeing, and I think that was the difference."
For Burnett, the beginning to this season is a welcome sign after his struggles in 2010, when he went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA. The right-hander has walked three batters in two starts and allowed only one home run. Both his control and his propensity to surrender the long ball plagued him for much of last season. Then again, early success is nothing new to Burnett, who is 7-0 in 12 career April starts with the Yankees.
"It's all about consistency," Burnett said. "I have to get my work in between and keep it going and not think about it."
After Burnett exited, the Yankees were involved in a scary situation in the seventh inning, when Swisher slid hard into second base on a Mark Teixeira grounder to shortstop. Swisher was out on the fielder's choice, but Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who is playing second base after being a shortstop in Japan, had to be carried off the field. He was diagnosed with a fractured left fibula.
"I just talked to him a little bit ago in the X-ray room," Swisher said after Thursday's game. "I told him, 'Hey man, I thought you were going to jump.' He just said, 'It's my fault, I didn't get out of the way.'"
Swisher said he was simply trying to help the Yankees add to their one-run lead.
"I was just trying to break up the double play," Swisher said. "I wasn't trying to do anything more than that."
Including the postseason, the Yankees have now won 32 of their last 39 at home against the Twins. They have won 10 consecutive regular-season home series against Minnesota in a streak that dates back to May 8-10, 2001. They finished their season-opening homestand with a 4-2 record and will travel to Boston for three games against the Red Sox -- who are 0-6 -- before returning home Tuesday to face the Orioles.
"I don't care if they're 0-6 and 6-0, they're still a talented ballclub," Chamberlain said of the Red Sox. "We know that, and we're not looking at their record, we're looking at the talent they're going to put on the field that we have to face."
Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.