A.J. Burnett throws simulated game

NEW YORK -- Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett said he "took a big step forward" during an 80-pitch outing on Wednesday in a simulation game at Yankee Stadium.

Burnett's pitches were mostly sharp as he prepares for a Game 4 start in the American League Championship Series. But he hit two batters and threw a wild pitch in his first outing against live hitters since an Oct. 2 start against the Boston Red Sox.

Burnett's first pitch on Wednesday, with Greg Golson in the box, went over catcher Francisco Cervelli's head and hit the backstop.

His fifth pitch hit Golston on the arm. He later drilled Austin Kearns on the shoulder. In between, he struck out Curtis Granderson with a sharp curveball and flashed good command of his changeup.

"I felt good the whole way through it so that was a big step forward there," Burnett said. "It was good to be out there and get fatigued toward the end and get through it."

Burnett allowed two runs in six innings in his last start. He earned a no-decision in that start against Boston, which was the last regular-season outing of a mostly disappointing 2010 for the right-hander, who is in the second season of a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Yankees. Burnett finished 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA and was left out of the ALDS rotation as Joe Girardi opted to go with just three starters in the short series.

But the Yankees did not want to force Andy Pettitte to throw on short rest in the ALCS because he is coming off a groin injury. They also didn't want to give the ball to Phil Hughes on short rest because the 24-year-old righty has never pitched with three days' rest, as opposed to the normal four.

So Burnett will get the ball against the Rangers in Game 4 in the Bronx. The Yankees announced that Hughes will start Game 2 and Pettitte Game 3.

Wednesday's session was a productive way to bridge the two-week gap between starts for Burnett, who noted that his curveball and changeup were sharp.

"I haven't seen a hitter in a while," Burnett said. "I haven't been able to sit and get up and sit and get up [before Wednesday] so it was a good day."

Burnett initially agreed when a reporter asked if the outing was a confidence-booster, but then he was quick to point out he doesn't have any problems with self-confidence.

"I don't have a problem with confidence to begin with but to be as sharp as I was for the most part ... it was great," Burnett said.

Burnett had a 6.61 ERA in his last 12 starts of the regular season.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.