BRADENTON, Fla. -- If Russell Martin truly intends to lay one down on "my boy," A.J. Burnett, the Yankees catcher had better already be practicing his bunting.Contrary to Martin's belief that the teams will meet this season in Interleague Play, the Pirates and the Yankees are scheduled for simply Grapefruit League dates: March 6 here, March 20 in Tampa. The Bombers will enjoy seeing Burnett in a Pittsburgh uniform, none more than his 2011 batterymate, who predicted a strong bounce-back season for the righty out of New York's microscope. "A.J.'s my boy ... I wish him the best," Martin said from the Yankees' Spring Training camp. "He had to battle all those outside influences that affected him; reading negative stuff in the paper, the fans being down on him a little bit. You can say it doesn't bother you, but it affects you. "I think sometimes he would let negative thoughts get into his mind and they would affect him a little bit. If he's able to be a little less hard on himself and breathe a little bit out there, he'll be fine. I think he might go over there with a chip on his shoulder and try to prove to the Yankees that they made a bad decision." Once details of Burnett's long-rumored deal to the Pirates were finalized on Friday, Martin relayed good-luck wishes via text. He also threatened to bunt on him, with Burnett replying, "LOL. I know you better than that, man." After only one season together, Martin knows Burnett well enough to call him "a great talent." "He got better last year [as the season progressed], he just wasn't as consistent as he would have liked, I'm sure," Martin said.
Overhauled training staff making presence felt
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle don't claim to have all the answers -- or even part of the reason injuries took such a big bite out of the 2011 season.Nevertheless, the organization felt a change was needed and took little time to overhaul its training staff. A few days after the end of the season, Todd Tomczyk was hired away from the Los Angeles Dodgers to replace Brad Henderson as head athletic trainer. Concurrently, former Giants strength and conditioning coach Ben Potenziano took over as his assistant, and Brendon Huttman replaced Frank Velasquez as the de facto strength and conditioning coach.
"We may still not be right, but the intent was to do it differently, with better results," said Huntington, who conceded having had a difficult time with the decision to dismiss the previous medical staff. "They were all qualified professionals, good at what they do, and did it with passion."We just wanted a different atmosphere, culture, environment, philosophy. We wanted a new voice, some things done in different ways." Huntington declined to elaborate, calling it a "competitive advantage." However, the new voices were already heard during the offseason programs assigned to Pirates players. "We were able to quickly plug people right in," Hurdle said. "We brainstormed with the medical staff on coming up with more extensive, more challenging programs, to do more than we had done in the past, just based on the experiences we had. "We had trainers work directly with each player during the offseason, getting actual feedback, rather than just hearsay." So, in Pirate City, those annual best-shape-of-my-life stories at least have tangible plotlines.
A.J. Burnett got his dibs on the No. 34 he has worn with three different teams since 2002. Daniel McCutchen had that number for only two years, so he didn't mind surrendering it, tweeting that his new No. 25 "is a pretty good number and we are all pumped to have AJ w/ the Pirates." Asked whether he'd received a "gift" in return for No. 34, as is customary, McCutchen said, "Not yet. But I'll settle for a handshake."
Update on the Mac Pack: Make it eight, with McKechnie Field hosting Daniel and Andrew McCutchen, Nate McLouth, James McDonald, Kyle McPherson, Michael McKenry and Casey McGehee.
Non-roster right-handers Ryota Igarashi and Juan Cruz had impressive bullpen sessions. Particularly Igarashi, who elicited a series of "Nice one!" props from catcher McKenry on sharp sliders he consistently threw below knee-level.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.