A.J. Burnett's decline last season coincided almost perfectly with the leave of absence taken by pitching coach Dave Eiland, who left the club for still-undisclosed personal reasons last June just as Burnett -- 6-2 at the time -- embarked on a five-game losing streak.
In trying to praise Larry Rothschild, who replaced Eiland as pitching coach this season, Burnett raised some eyebrows when he said "I have nothing against Dave. But you just click with certain people, I guess,'' in regards to the way he and Rothschild hit it off during a two-day meeting at Burnett's Maryland home last month.
Burnett also alluded to "listening to a lot of people that maybe I shouldn't have, or maybe I should have,'' without making it clear whether any of those people was Eiland.
Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Eiland -- who is now working as a special adviser to the Yankees divisional rivals the Tampa Bay Rays -- said there was never a rift between himself and Burnett. "Absolutely not,'' Eiland said. "A.J. and I never had a problem.''
He did, however, say he believed Burnett might be ready to do something he was not ready to do last season, namely put himself into the hands of his pitching coach in an attempt to repair what went wrong in his horrendous 2010 season.
"I think he's ready to make those adjustments he needs to make now,'' said Eiland, who was fired the week after the Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS. "Sometimes guys have got to stumble and fall a little bit before they're ready to do what they need to do. At the end of last season, he told me, "I tried it my way and it didn't work. I'm in your hands.'' That was our plan for the off-season but we never got to implement it for obvious reasons.''
Like Rothschild, Eiland believes Burnett's problems to be more mechanical than mental -- "inconsistencies in his delivery'' -- although he also said he sensed that Burnett was not throwing his pithces with full confidence for much of last season.
"You gottta have conviction in every pitch you throw,'' Eiland said. "You can’t half-step it or you’re going to get hit hard. You've got to believe in every pitch. And I don't think A.J. did last year.''
Despite the fact the Yankees and Rays finished within a game of one another last season and could be locked in a bitter playoff battle again this year, Eiland said he hoped Burnett solved his problems this season. "I'm pulling very hard for A.J.,'' Eiland said. "He's a good guy and I want to see him have success.''