Burnett tinkering with changeup
Veteran righty adapting while torn fingernail continues to heal
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There is one positive that's come from that pesky broken fingernail on A.J. Burnett's right index finger. The Blue Jays starter hasn't been able to fling his signature curveball, but the hand issue has forced Burnett to focus on honing his changeup.
On Wednesday afternoon, Burnett continued to work on his secondary offspeed pitch in a four-inning outing against the Pirates at Knology Park. In the second, Pittsburgh catcher Ronny Paulino flailed at one particular changeup that dove down so drastically that it resembled Burnett's signature breaking ball.
"It's a lot like a split," said Burnett, likening his changeup to a split-finger fastball. "That's what a lot of guys say. Today it was diving down and to the right. I just clicked on it every time and kept throwing it."
That's all Burnett can do until the fingernail he broke in November, when he caught his $55 million hand in his car door, grows enough to allow him to begin using his curve again. The pitcher digs his index finger into the stitches of the baseball when throwing the breaking pitch.
Burnett said that in another week or so, the fingernail might be healed enough to apply a fake nail, which would help him utilize the curveball until the nail has grown in completely. Until then, the 31-year-old right-hander will continue to work on the location with his fastball and the consistency with his changeup.
"It's my go-to pitch right now," Burnett said about the changeup. "I just tried to finish it and stay through it and execute it. I'm not getting really caught up in results. It's just the more I throw it, the more comfortable I'm going to feel."
Against Pittsburgh, Burnett allowed one run on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk in four innings, finishing with 52 pitches (36 strikes). He allowed a leadoff double to Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth in the first, but then escaped the inning unscathed, thanks in part to a pair of strikeouts to end the frame.
There were many situations in which Burnett might've thrown his curveball, but had to rely on the changeup. In the third inning, the pitcher gave up a pair of doubles -- the second of which scored a run. That two-base hit, which was one of two McLouth collected off Burnett, came on a changeup.
Burnett said he's getting more comfortable with the pitch as the spring progresses, and he's hoping to be able to use it more often during the season than in the past. Of course, that was the same plan the pitcher discussed heading into last season. At the least, the absence of Burnett's curve has provided him more chances to work on another weapon.
"Hopefully I can keep that when I get the other pitch back," he said.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.