Bronx, NY – A.J. Burnett felt awful out there. It was hard to tell by the way he pitched.
Burnett took a steady first step as he aims to bounce back from a wobbly season and Mark Teixeira hit his second three-run homer in two games, sending the New York Yankees to a 10-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
“It’s a positive step. I was able to use my second and third pitches,” Burnett said. “Anytime our offense opens up like that it really helps me out.”
Russell Martin also smacked a three-run shot, Alex Rodriguez hit No. 614 and Derek Jeter began his march toward 3,000 hits with his first two of the season.
Rodriguez drove in Jeter with a first-inning double off Brad Penny (0-1), an early bust in his Detroit debut, and New York opened a 6-0 cushion after two. Burnett, fighting a nasty head cold, was in control from the start and made it through five effective innings.
“I feel terrible,” he said. “I’ve got a sinus infection, throat infection and I can’t hear.”
The right-hander was a wreck last year, going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA and an AL-high 19 hit batters. He also threw 16 wild pitches, cut both hands in a clubhouse fit and showed up one day with a mysterious black eye. He was left out of the rotation for the first round of the playoffs against Minnesota.
After losing out on Cliff Lee and watching Andy Pettitte retire last winter, the Yankees can’t afford another meltdown from Burnett. With unproven Ivan Nova and aging Freddy Garcia at the back of the rotation, Burnett is a crucial piece of New York’s postseason plans.
“A.J.’s going to have a big year for us,” Rodriguez said.
Beginning the third season of an $82.5 million, five-year contract, the 34-year-old worked extensively with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild during spring training to solidify his delivery.
The result was a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings against big league hitters. More important, he walked none while striking out 11.
Burnett (1-0) carried that confidence into his first outing of the season. Working quickly and getting ahead, he pumped in 93-95 mph fastballs and kept the Tigers off stride with his curve and changeup.
Burnett allowed three runs and five hits, working out of a jam in the fifth, while striking out six and walking one. He fanned four of his first six batters and threw 58 of 86 pitches for strikes.
Mariano Rivera retired Miguel Cabrera on a grounder with two on for his second save.
“The bottom line is, we just haven’t kept them in the ballpark,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “They’ve hit them over the fence. There’s no defense for that.”
Victor Martinez hit his first home run for the Tigers, a two-run shot off Luis Ayala in the eighth. Austin Jackson had a solo drive off Burnett in the third.
Detroit opened the fifth with three straight singles, and a run-scoring groundout by Will Rhymes cut it to 6-3. Burnett struck out No. 3 hitter Magglio Ordonez on a breaking ball in the dirt to end the inning, and four relievers took it the rest of the way.
Just threw everything I could at him,” said Burnett, who got a mound visit from Rothschild before Rhymes came to bat. “I really didn’t have a lot that last inning.”
Martin, coming off a strong Yankees debut in the season-opening win Thursday, drove a 2-2 pitch from left-hander Brad Thomas to left-center with two outs in the fifth, making it 9-3.
“He’s been extremely important to us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
Rodriguez homered to center leading off the sixth, a rude welcome for right-hander Brayan Villarreal, who was facing his first big league batter.
Jeter, who has 2,928 hits, got the Yankees started with a single in their three-run first. He also scored on Teixeira’s three-run drive to right in the second.
“That was a terrible pitch. Probably the worst pitch I’ve thrown in, I can’t remember,” Penny said. “I gave in. I’m down 2-0 in that situation and I gave in and threw it right down the middle.”
Teixeira, a notoriously slow starter, started 0 for 17 and 3 for 38 last year. He didn’t hit his first home run until April 18 and finished the month with nine RBIs in 22 games.
Penny lasted 4 1-3 innings, giving up eight runs, seven hits and four walks. A two-time All-Star, he was limited to nine starts last season with St. Louis because of a back injury.
NOTES: Umpires went inside for a look at the video replay on Robinson Cano’s leadoff double off the top of the left-field fence in the fifth and correctly upheld the initial call. … Detroit acquired RHP Pedro Perez from Boston as the player to be named in the deal that sent INF Brent Dlugach to the Red Sox on Nov. 4. Perez was 8-5 with a 3.94 ERA for Class-A Greenville last year.