"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: A.J. Burnett
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Delay of Game

AJ Burnett

AJ Burnett is now 31-33 since joining the Yankees.

AJ Burnett is like a golfer who shoots good scores, but has two or three bad holes per round that sully the scorecard. Friday night’s start was indicative of just that. Burnett, for the most part, was solid against a Baltimore Orioles lineup that has some punch. He pitched eight innings, struck out a season-high 10 batters, and walked only two. He ended five of the eight innings with strikeouts. That was the good. The bad: five poor at-bats led to four runs.

In the second inning, Burnett walked Derrek Lee with one out, and then left a fastball on the outer half to Mark Reynolds, who launched it over the right-center field fence into the Yankees’ bullpen. The same part of the order bit him in the fourth inning. Consecutive doubles by Vladimir Guerrero and Lee made it 3-0. In the sixth, Lee victimized Burnett yet again, this time with a home run to right-center. That blast completed the Orioles’ scoring.

Overall, Burnett’s night was the equivalent of shooting 74 or 75, with five or six birdies, but a bunch of bogeys submarining what could have been a fantastic round.

Paul O’Neill summed up Burnett’s night perfectly during the top of the ninth inning on the YES telecast: “AJ Burnett didn’t make too many mistakes tonight — far fewer than in his last game — but the mistakes he did make ended up going for home runs and doubles.”

The loss left Burnett winless in July. It is the third winless month in his Yankees career. How goofy of a season has this been for Burnett? Friday marked the third time this season that he’s pitched into the eighth inning. The Yankees have lost each of those games, and Burnett has been the pitcher of record.

The burden of the 4-2 defeat should not fall squarely on Burnett, though. It was the type of game that if the vaunted Yankees offense did anything to support him, the outcome would have been different. Jeremy Guthrie, a pitcher the Yankees have owned over the last two years, turned the tables and was in complete control. Of the 69 strikes Guthrie threw, 19 were called strikes and 21 were foul balls. He had mid-90s velocity on his fastball with good movement, and he changed speeds effectively to keep the big bats off balance.

Watching the game, the telltale sign that it would not be the Yankees’ night was that the second and third time through the order, usually when they make minced meat of pitchers like Guthrie, the grinding at-bats the Yankees are known for didn’t yield positive outcomes — Mark Teixeira’s solo home run in the sixth inning notwithstanding. When they did put runners on base, Guthrie made a pitch to get the Yankees out. They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position; a common refrain when analyzing Yankees losses over the course of this season.

A ninth-inning rally against Kevin Gregg fell short when Brett Gardner, who swung through nearly every hittable pitch that came his way in previous at-bats, capped an 0-for-5 performance by striking out swinging to end the game. The key pitch in the at-bat was the fastball Gregg threw with the count at 3-and-1. Gardner thought it was outside for ball four. Gardner turned toward first base and was three steps up the line when home plate umpire Mike Dimuro called the pitch a strike and ushered Gardner back the batter’s box. Replays confirmed the pitch was off the plate by a few inches, but it was too close to take.

Following the whiff, Gardner slammed his bat on the ground in frustration, cracking it in half. Given that the Red Sox lost to the White Sox and another chance to cut into the 2 1/2-game deficit was wasted, they should be frustrated.

Know When to Fold 'Em

Steven Goldman looks at A.J. Burnett vs. Ivan Nova:

Everything about Nova—good fastball but weak secondary offerings and a tendency to stop fooling hitters in the middle innings seems to scream relief work. He might someday develop that solid extra pitch, but it’s a gamble, whereas a Jimenez (or another established pitcher) has already cleared that particular hurdle. I remain a strong believer in internal development and a youth movement for the Yankees, but I don’t believe in youth solely for youth’s sake—if that was a goal worth pursuing, you could bring up any kid from any level of the minors. No, the youngster has to be demonstrably better than what you currently have. Nova is better than Burnett right now, but in the long term he’s likely to be surpassed. He’s just not special, and when someone offers to trade you their best stuff for your everyday, average players, you jump. That’s how legendarily lopsided trades are born. Every deal is a gamble, but Nova is not one of those chips not likely to come back and bite them.

In short, when it comes to Nova, the Yankees need to use him (for Burnett) or lose him (for someone better than Burnett and himself).

Phew!

Russell Martin, Carlos Pena

Russell Martin absorbed heavy contact and kept the Yankees ahead. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Former Marlins teammates AJ Burnett and Ryan Dempster squared off in the middle game of the marquee interleague series of the weekend, at Wrigley Field. There was potential for a pitchers’ duel, if the “Good AJ” showed up, and if Dempster maintained the good control he’s shown at home thus far (almost a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings pitched at Wrigley this season).

That wasn’t to be, though. The game was tight and low-scoring, but more because both teams missed opportunities, rather than Burnett and Dempster dominating. Both pitchers followed the “bend but don’t break” M.O. Burnett allowed two runs, struck out eight and walked three in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while Dempster allowed only three runs while walking a season-high six batters, and struck out six.

The Yankees had their chances. They had base runners every inning, but were only able to push runners across in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Curtis Granderson led off with a single — doesn’t it seem like when the Yankees score, he’s in the middle of the rally? — and later scored on Robinson Canó’s double. Nick Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Alex Rodriguez, who singled and advanced to third on the Canó double.

The Cubs tied the game in the fourth, making Burnett pay for issuing a leadoff walk to Blake DeWitt. Two batters later, Carlos Peña hit a laser into the right-field seats.

Sometimes, the most important moment in a game isn’t a timely hit, it’s a baserunning mistake. Following a one-out walk to Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro lined a single to center. On that hit, Fukudome was running on the pitch but did not advance to third. On the FOX broadcast, Tim McCarver said there was “no excuse for Fukudome to not be on third base with one out, or at least get thrown out trying.” The next batter, DeWitt, who figured in the Cubs’ first rally, bounced into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

Eduardo Nuñez carried the positive vibes from the solid turn of the double play into the top of the sixth, lining a single up the middle on an 0-2 count and later scoring on a Granderson sac fly to give the Yankees the lead. (The Granderson RBI was off lefty James Russell. Granderson, versus lefties this season: .277/.341/.651, 20 RBI.) In the ninth, Nuñez drove in what would be the go-ahead run with a double.

Mariano Rivera made things interesting, yielding a leadoff home run to Reed Johnson and a single to Alfonso Soriano. But he needed just four more pitches to record three outs, inducing Geovany Soto to ground into a double play and striking out Jeff Baker.

That would be the high-level overview of the game. Two plays in particular preserved this victory for the Yankees: the first was the double play that ended the fifth. The second came in the sixth inning. Canó missed an easy catch on a force attempt that turned a potential first-and-third, two-out situation into a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. On a full count, Soto lined to left. Brett Gardner made up for his base running gaffe in the top of the sixth by making a nice catch on the liner and firing a one-hop strike to home. A huge collision ensued between Peña and catcher Russell Martin. Martin hung onto the ball, showed it to both Peña and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

Sometimes over the course of a season, winning teams win games despite an odd boxscore. Saturday, the Yankees walked 10 times and only scored four runs. They got 11 hits and went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position yet left 13 men stranded. They committed two errors and ran themselves out of an inning.

Yet in the end, the formula that usually leads to a victory — timely hitting, a few key defensive plays, above average starting pitching and a capable bullpen effort — put a W up for the Yankees. By all accounts, they should have beaten the Cubs about 11-3 in this game. But as the better team, being able to hang on and win the close game is encouraging and should serve them well as the season wears on.

Which Pitcher is the Story?


The story of the past week has been pitching, in a number of facets. But which pitcher was THE story? Let’s take a look at the items up for bid …

* Mariano Rivera blew two consecutive saves after converting his first seven save opportunities and looking as superhuman as ever. And he wasn’t booed, because these saves were a) blown on the road; and b) didn’t come against the Red Sox at home.

* Rafael Soriano, however, was booed, and deservedly so, during and after Tuesday’s 8th inning meltdown. Strong pieces at ESPN New York by Johnette Howard and the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Barbarisi on Soriano’s fragility.

* Phil Hughes went to the DL, tried to throw, his arm was a noodle, and now a mysterious shoulder ailment that may or may not be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is being discussed as a possible diagnosis. Compression of either the nerves, artery or vein in the clavicle area signify TOS. One of the possible causes of the “repetitive trauma”. The pitching motion classifies as repetitive trauma. In more severe TOS cases, surgery is required. Former Yankee Kenny Rogers had surgery to repair TOS in 2001. He came back and pitched seven more seasons.

* Pedro Feliciano, it was great to meet you. Who is Lance Pendleton?

* Bartolo Colon, who many believed should have been in the rotation anyway based on his performance in Spring Training, replaced Hughes and tossed an 8-inning gem. Even more impressive was the consistency of his velocity: 95 in the early going, and 96 in the later innings. Is he the Yankees best pitcher right now, as Wally Matthews suggests? Maybe.

* Freddy Garcia, who pitches tonight, has a matching WHIP and ERA (0.69), and has allowed just 5 hits in 13 IP thus far.

* AJ Burnett may be the best story of all. He suffered a hard luck loss on Monday because the Yankees’ offense is ineffective against pitchers that a) they’ve never seen before; b) pitch like Mike Mussina in the 86-89 mph range, but change speeds and have movement on their pitches. Despite the team result, he may have pitched his best game of the season. The question, as it always is with Mr. Allan James Burnett, is consistency. Will he breathe out of the correct eyelids in May?

* Ivan Nova proved he may be able to get past five innings. Small sample size, yes. But still …

* And of course, there’s CC Sabathia. He’s the ace, the grinder, and the guy who more often than not, somehow makes the right pitch to wriggle out of jams. An ace isn’t always a dominant strikeout pitcher. The main job, keep the opposition off the scoreboard and give your offense a chance to support you. He did it Thursday, just as he did so many times the previous two seasons.

Of those guys, which story had the greatest impact? My vote is for Hughes, because of the trickle-down effect it’s caused in the rotation. If Colon and Garcia keep this up, they get the Aaron Small / Shawn Chacon Memorial “Surprise MVPs” Award.

Feel free to agree / disagree below, in Comments.

[Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP]

Tatooz Youse

A.J. Burnett, the man with the golden arm, makes his second start of the year this afternoon.

Grandy gets the day off:

1. Jeter SS
2. Swisher RF
3. Texeira 1B
4. Rodriguez 3B
5. Cano 2B
6. Posada DH
7. Jones LF
8. Martin C
9. Gardner CF

Never mind the preamble, Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Credit: Enduring Wanderlust]

Gutter Music

A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny are former teammates. Today, they start against each other in the Bronx. Which dude has the best stuff? Watch and learn and remember, Todd Drew never gave up on ol’ A.J., so neither should we.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Yankee Panky: Oblique Outlook

Dictionary.com lists 13 definitions for the adjective form of the word oblique. As it pertains to anatomy, oblique muscles are those that run at an angle, as opposed to transversely (horizontally) or longitudinally (vertically). In the abdominal wall, the obliques are the muscles that form the side cut of a six-pack. They’re the love handles.

Synonyms, as listed within the aforementioned link, include “indirect,” “covert,” or “veiled.” But oblique strains have directly, overtly and obviously affected the Yankees this Spring, with Greg Golson, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain and now Curtis Granderson all falling victim to the injury. Granderson’s injury may put his Opening Day availability in question. This is no surprise, given that recovery time ranges from 10 days up to 3 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain.

Chamberlain missed 10 days. He returned to action Tuesday and was throwing 95 miles per hour. Golson also returned Tuesday, after missing 15 days of action. Mitre, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since March 14. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, in a mid-afternoon post Tuesday, reported that Mitre thought he had a roster spot secured when he arrived in Tampa 6 weeks ago. Tuesday’s start, Mitre’s first since he suffered his oblique strain, may be giving the Yankees pause about adding him to the 25-man roster. The following quotes are priceless.

First, Mitre is confidently unsure:

“I don’t look at it as a setback. I’m hoping they don’t base everything off of one spring start. If that’s the case, then we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think that’s the case — at least toward me. They know I can get people out and they know they can rely on me, I hope.”

Let’s examine this: two home runs yielded, a sinker that didn’t sink, Nova and Colon basically acting in full carpe diem mode. But this wasn’t a setback. Fans have little to no confidence that he can get anyone out. The numbers over the past two seasons prove as much. Plus, he wears the accursed No. 45. From Steve Balboni to Cecil Fielder to Chili Davis to (gulp) Carl Pavano, that number never helped anyone in a Yankee uniform over the last 25 years. And yet I digress …

More from Mitre:

“I don’t think there should be any reason why not. If I still have to worry about that, then I’m probably not doing something right.”

(Insert laugh track here)

(more…)

In Control

A.J. Burnett had a good outing today. Chad Jennings has the skinny.

Stand Tall or Don't Stand At All

The light continues to change. The Sun is high in the sky now when I get off the subway and walk a few blocks east to my office building. People shield their eyes as they move. It is winter cold today but the spring is near.

Down in Floriday, A.J. Burnett pitched yesterday and showed off his new delivery.

Season Effective Disorder

Three weeks into Yankees Spring Training, and we’ve learned this: New York is a Basketball town. Alex has written about this, and I remember Sweeny Murti talking about covering the Yankees while the Knicks made their run to the 1994 Finals. It’s true. The Knicks are the sleeping giant, and now with Carmelo Anthony, they will own the back pages unless something either major or catastrophic happens in Yankeeland.

This is actually a good thing, because Spring Training for the Yankees is basically a time suck. While it’s great to see baseball — hell, grass — after being battered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures for the better part of the last two months, doesn’t seem as cool when the biggest questions year after year are who the 5th man in the rotation will be, and who the 24th and 25th man on the roster will be.

Obvious storylines have been played up like they’re original concepts. For example:

* Derek Jeter reported to spring training and in his press conference intent to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the man who is above statistics is actually going to try to enjoy the moment when he reaches 3,000 hits this summer. In a year or two, he might need a position change.

Snore.

(more…)

A False Spring

Yeah, it’s cold again in New York, but their is plenty of hot air about C.C. Sabathia keeping heads busy down in Florida. Hey, Sabathia might opt out of his deal at the end of the year: Oh, word?

Meanwhile, George King has a piece on A.J. Burnett:

“Last year it really hit me how important I am to this team,” Burnett said yesterday on the way out of George M. Steinbrenner Field.

“I am not saying that we didn’t win the World Series because of me, but I know if I had been right, it would have been a lot easier chore. I never knew how important I was to a team. That’s not being cocky or arrogant, it’s the way it is. I mean, what did I do to help?”

King also reports that Joba Chamberlain is ready to step up to Brian Cashman’s challenge.

Panic on the Streets…

The Manhattan Bridge is the closest, and the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t far, but such a cliche — the Verrazano, now that’s fairly convenient, bit more interesting, less overdone…

Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Is it recap time?

That was a hell of a game, and not in the good way. Join me on a journey back through the mists of time to the first inning of Game 4… ah, we were all so young then. A.J. Burnett profoundly surprised me by pitching, under the circumstances, pretty well. Certainly as well as anyone could have expected given that the last time he pitched a good game, pterodactyls soared above the ballpark. The crowd was behind him, but to me it wasn’t heartwarming so much as desperate – c’mon, fella, you can make it! It’s just a flesh wound! You’ll be fine! He was okay, though. He allowed two runs in the second, after walking David Murphy (fatefully, not for the last time), hitting Bengie Molina with a pitch (if only he… no, no, mustn’t think like that); Mitch Moreland bunted and Elvis Andrus grounded out, but then came Michael Young, who hit a softish two-RBI single. Burnett may not have been dominant, but he got out of the inning and held the Rangers there through five innings; going into tonight’s game I would’ve taken that and not complained.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scraped together a few runs: a Robinson Cano homer that just ticked over the right field wall, possibly aided by some fans who made it hard for Nelson Cruz to make a catch – that’s what Cruz argued, anyway. I thought it was out anyhow, but the fans didn’t exactly improve anyone’s image of Yankee supporters. (Although I have to admit they cracked me up). The umpires declined to review it, which seems weird since that’s why instant replay exists, but again: it was out, so no damage done. Later in the inning a Lance Berkman fly to deep right was reviewed and correctly found to be foul. It wasn’t the umpiring tonight… it was just, you know, everything else. Anyway, the Yanks tacked on in the third inning when Derek Jeter tripled (!!!) and Curtis Granderson singled him home, and again in the fourth, when A-Rod was hit by a pitch, singled over by Cano and Berkman, and scored by a Brett Gardner ground out. Paralleling Burnett, this was not exactly Murderer’s Row, but they had a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning.

Which is when the baseball gods started pulling at a loose bit of yarn, and before you knew it, but also in a kind of weird slow motion, the whole sweater unraveled.

I don’t think you can say that Mark Teixeira is underrated or underappreciated – he is an extremely well paid star on a popular team; he’s not under any radars. But I was a little unprepared for what a gut-punch it was to watch him cringe while running hard to first, fall into an awkward slide, and stay down until the Yankee trainers could help him off the field. It was a grade 2 hamstring strain, and the last we’ll see of Mark Teixeira until spring. And while he didn’t have his best year at the plate, I’d sure rather see him up there than Marcus Thames; and you know you’d rather see him manning first base than Nick Swisher. He’s not A-Rod, and these days he’s not Cano, and he’s not one of the remaining 90s Yanks, and hell, he’s probably the blandest star athlete in recent memory… but the Yankees are going to miss him quite a bit, even if they only have one game left in which to do so. It sucked all the air out of the Stadium.

That came during an aborted rally in the bottom of the fifth, after a somewhat shaky Burnett got himself through the top of the inning. Many people were surprised to see Joe Girardi turn to Burnett again in the sixth, and although I didn’t think it was such a clear-cut choice, in retrospect it was clearly not wise: Vladimir Guerrero singled, moved to second on a force out, and then — this, I did have a problem with — Burnett intentionally walked David Murphy, in order to face Bengie Molina.

What did I say about Molinas before this series? Huh? WHAT DID I SAY, A.J.?! JOE? Goddammit, no one ever listens to me.

Molina homered, the Rangers took a 5-3 lead, and while that’s hardly insurmountable, this began the “slow-motion unraveling” portion of the evening. Burnett got out of the 6th, but Josh Hamilton homered off Boone Logan in the 7th, and the Rangers tacked on another run off of Joba Chamberlain. Ron Washington’s love of the bullpen shuffle worked out well for him this time around; the Yankees had chances — they even got the tying run to the plate in the 8th inning — but couldn’t break through. In the ninth Sergio Mitre came in and everything went south (HR Hamilton, HR Cruz), but by then it was all over but the crying, anyway. 10-3 Rangers is your final.

Joe Girardi made a number of questionable moves tonight. I can’t get too worked up about them since I think, ultimately, the Rangers have flat out-hit and out-pitched the Yanks, and different managerial moves probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference. But there’s no way to know that for sure, and it’s still plenty frustrating, which may be part of why tonight’s game got under my skin in an unpleasant way. Tomorrow, the Yankees have to win or go home — and if they win, they need to do it twice more. I’m not optimistic, frankly. But every day in late October that you still have a game to watch is a good day, so here’s hoping C.C. Sabathia pitches like C.C. Sabathia tomorrow, and the Yankees live to see Game 6.

Molinas… why’s it always have to be Molinas?

Layoff Payoff?

The Yankees rested comfortably for the second consecutive day Monday, and when the American League Championship Series begins Friday night, either in Arlington or St. Petersburg, they’ll have gone five full days without game action. Not even the All-Star break presented such a respite.

Much has already been written about the long layoff and whether or not it will benefit the Yankees. The consensus is that it could either help them, or hurt them. Well yes, but which one?

The facts are these: CC Sabathia will be pitching on eight days’ rest. Whatever their assignments — we’ll know officially later today — Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will be pitching on similar rest. Kerry Wood, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera will be rejuvenated. Joba Chamberlain will be woken up and told he may be called for duty in the ALCS.

As for position players, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez, all of whom played through injuries and other struggles in September and collectively helped the team limp into the wild-card position, are using this time to heal. (Based on the latest news from Esquire Magazine, Jeter might be healing the best out of all of them.) For guys like Curtis Granderson, the long layoff may kill the mojo he had going against the Twins.

I thought the layoff would prompt Joe Girardi to consider shelving AJ Burnett and going with a three-man rotation for at least this next round. With three well-rested arms, Sabathia could go on three days’ rest if necessary, as could either Pettitte or Hughes. But alas, my thought — ah, hell, let’s be honest, wish — was that Girardi would take that risk. He did not.

From GM Brian Cashman, on a conference call yesterday, as reported by the locals:

“I don’t think it will be a secret that (a four-man rotation is) probably the best route for us to go. Is (a three-man rotation) the best way to go? I don’t know if it’s the best way to go. I do think we’re deeper than that. I think we need to prepare to go with a four-man and see where that takes us and prove that we’re not just built for a division series with off days that are beneficial to us. In this round and probably the next round, we’re going to have to prove that we’re deeper than that.

“…October can bring out a competitive side in people, and I know AJ’s got a lot of competition in him. I know he’d like to eradicate everything that’s occurred here in the second half. A terrific start would go a long way toward doing that.”

Cashman is right. He’s diplomatically defending a five-year, $82.5 million investment, and he should. The Burnett signing was Cashman’s, and he’s holding himself accountable to the media. Even the AJ naysayers in the Banter community would like to see Burnett eradicate the bomb that the 2010 regular season was. But we also know he can eradicate the playoff run with a “Bad AJ” performance that features a lot of looks over his shoulders, and facial expressions normally reserved for the bathroom. Both Girardi and Cashman seem too conservative to hedge this risky of a bet.

(more…)

Master of Disaster Start

Over at Baseball Prospectus, “Friend of Banter” Jay Jaffe looks at the “Disaster Starts” of A.J. Burnett:

Burnett is in a six-way tie for the major league lead in disaster starts, with eight. As originally defined by former Baseball Prospectus columnist Jim Baker, a disaster start is one in which a starter allows as many or more runs as innings pitched. It’s the ugly flip side of a quality start, one in which a pitcher goes at least six innings while allowing three or fewer runs—a disaster because teams rarely win such games, and because they often burn through their bullpens just trying to find enough mops and buckets to get through nine innings.

Occasionally, the disaster start definition is limited to allowing more runs as innings pitched, and because the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index makes querying the latter definition much easier than the former one, we’ll stick with that for the purposes of this dumpster dive. Here’s the 2010 leaderboard, the Masters of Disaster:

Rk Player Team DS Team W-L IP/GS RA
1 Paul Maholm PIT 8 0-8 3.3 19.91
A.J. Burnett NYA 8 0-8 3.4 18.67
Scott Kazmir LAA 8 0-8 4.5 13.38
Jonathon Niese NYN 8 2-6 4.4 12.99
Kyle Kendrick PHI 8 3-5 4.0 12.79
Justin Masterson CLE 8 0-8 4.8 12.08
7 Charlie Morton PIT 7 0-7 2.9 20.80
Joe Saunders 2TM 7 1-6 3.7 17.18
Kyle Lohse SLN 7 0-7 3.8 16.41
Brian Matusz BAL 7 2-5 3.3 15.26
Brad Bergesen BAL 7 1-6 3.8 15.19
Nick Blackburn MIN 7 1-6 3.8 14.70
Matt Garza TBA 7 1-6 4.2 13.04
Javier Vazquez NYA 7 3-4 4.2 11.83

. . . While it’s cold comfort to Yankees fans at the moment—perhaps less so now that they’ve clinched a playoff spot—the recently hapless Burnett rates as a pretty good pitcher in the grand scheme of things. Coming into this year, he’d put up a 3.83 ERA and 8.8 K/9 since 2004. He still misses bats at an above-average clip, his SIERA (4.42) is around league-average, but his BABIP (.323) is inflated; basically, he’s in a rut compounded by some bad luck. Thanks to the spaced-out schedule, he’s unlikely to get a first-round playoff start. He may just have painted his last disasterpiece of the season.

False Start?

Over at ESPN, Rob Neyer asks: Does A.J. Burnett deserve a playoff start?

The moment Burnett left the Blue Jays for the Yankees he went from excellent to (roughly) average. Why this happened, I don’t have the slightest idea. Regression to the mean. Normal wear and tear. Nerves. Something in that pristine Catskill Mountains drinking water. I don’t know. But Burnett’s just not the same pitcher that he was, not so long ago.

This was masked last season by the vagaries of luck and ERA. In 2008, Burnett posted a 4.07 ERA with the Jays. In 2009, he posted a 4.05 ERA with the Yankees. But there were definitely signs of regression, and aside from his ERAs, this season looks more like last season than last season looked like 2008. Last season, his ERA should have been — with just average luck, I mean — somewhere around 4.30; this season it should be somewhere around 4.60.

Essentially, what the Yankees have gotten for their $16.5 million per season is a league-average starting pitcher. Which wouldn’t be so awful, except when you’re spending $16.5 million you do feel compelled to let him pitch. Which wouldn’t be so awful, except Burnett’s signed through 2013 and if he regresses much farther he simply won’t be good enough to pitch for a team that needs to win 95 games every season.

Right now, though? If you don’t have to pitch him, don’t pitch him. If you don’t want to start Sabathia on short rest, tell Burnett you’re just looking for five good innings and then the bullpen will take over at the first sign of trouble. Because while he certainly is not good, neither is he bad.

Burn Baby Burn

Yanks lookin’ to get greedy. AJ Burnett lookin’ to show and prove:

Go git ‘em, fellas.

I Gotta Stay Home and Grease Weezer

I like AJ rockin’ the black eye look:

Makes him look cool.

I Want to Know For Sure

AJ Burnett, the Yankees’ lasted version of Nuke LaLoosh, must pitch well if the Yanks are going to repeat as Whirled Champs. The crazy part is, he’s capable of going on a run. He goes tonight in Baltimore. Mark Feinsand reports the latest from pitching coach Dave Eiland:

“I think his confidence and conviction in his pitches is a lot better,” Eiland said. “When he believes in every pitch he throws and trusts that good stuff he has, he’s successful. When he tries to throw a strike, that’s when he gets in trouble, because he backs off a bit. Just trust it and go get ‘em.”

Burnett should have that confidence against the Orioles, having pitched to a 2.48 ERA while going 2-2 in four starts against Baltimore this season, including one of his best games of 2010, an eight-inning shutout performance at Camden Yards back on April 29.

“A.J. needs to see the glove and throw right through it,” Eiland said. “Believe in it. Think, ‘I’m better than you and this pitch is going to beat you.’ As long as A.J. is healthy, he has a chance to dominate somebody every time he walks out of that dugout.”

For the Love of AJ

“I can’t stand AJ Burnett. I don’t like him. I don’t like his face, I don’t like the way he looks, I don’t like his tattoos, I don’t like him at all.”

It’s not some demented baseball version of “Green Eggs and Ham,” it’s my mother’s visceral reaction to Allan James Burnett’s mere appearance on a pitcher’s mound. Mom lives nearly 600 miles away, and I’m sure she was repeating those words when she asked my father, “Who’s pitching tonight” and he likely said, “Burnett. Your favorite.”

My mom’s disdain toward Burnett is shared among many Yankee fans. Turning from the superficial to the baseball-related stuff, Burnett’s 2010 performance provided all cause for whatever disdain, distrust, or dislike is felt. Burnett had allowed at least six earned runs in nine of his 26 starts prior to Wednesday’s outing. As news of Andy Pettitte’s pain-free, 55-pitch bullpen session and Javier Vazquez’s return to the starting rotation filtered through the wires, talk shifted to AJ Burnett potentially pitching his way out of the rotation. ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, my fellow Ithaca alum, went so far as to say he was staring at “that Ed Whitson-Hideki Irabu-Kei Igawa abyss,” and gave this start make-or-break status.

(I’d put the “abyss” more on the Kevin Brown level rather than Whitson, Irabu or Igawa — especially when you consider the parallel of Burnett cutting his hand while breaking a plastic casing on the clubhouse door to Brown punching a stanchion in the clubhouse back in 2004 and breaking his left hand, but OK, point taken.)

Burnett has had three discernible trends this season: 1) all-out implosion; 2) early blow-up, then cruises, as he did in Kansas City; 3) cruise early, then have a one- or two-inning hiccup and hang on for dear life. Wednesday, Burnett chose Option 3. Staked to a 4-0 lead after two innings, Burnett had everything working the first pass through the A’s order. He was throwing hard but looked like he had a lot in reserve. Once the fourth inning came around, the inevitable “uh-oh” moment happened. Burnett caught too much of the plate with two fastballs: the first resulted in a line-drive double off the bat of Kurt Suzuki, and the second ended up in the right-field seats, courtesy of Kevin Kouzmanoff. 4-2 Yankees.

The fifth inning wasn’t much better. Rajai Davis led off by scalding a belt-high fastball to left-center that one-hopped the fence for a ground-rule double. He later stole third base and scored on a groundout. As quickly as the Yankees built the four-run cushion for Burnett, the lead was down to one. Burnett then lost a nine-pitch battle with Daric Barton, issuing a two-out walk. He bore down and got Suzuki to fly out to end the inning, and retired the A’s in the sixth, the only blip in that inning being the two-out single by Mark Ellis.

Joe Girardi has fiercely defended Burnett, citing how well he’s pitched in big games — specifically Game 2 of the World Series and the way he dueled Josh Beckett at Yankee Stadium last August — and it’s not too late for him to turn things around and have a good month heading into the playoffs. But he did not take any chances Wednesday night. Girardi pulled Burnett after the sixth with the Yankees holding the slim 4-3 lead, preserving at worst a no-decision. Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan and Kerry Wood made things interesting in the seventh and eighth innings, putting the tying run in scoring position in both frames. However, they were able to escape those jams.

Even Mariano Rivera wasn’t a sure bet. He, too, allowed the tying run to advance to scoring position. After retiring the first two batters quickly, Daric Barton reached on an infield single and later stole second base. But Rivera ended the suspense by striking out Suzuki on a 93 mile-per-hour sinker.

Mark Teixeira continued to wield a hot bat, going 3-for-4 and driving in three more runs.

But the story was Burnett. He bent but didn’t break, tying a season-high with eight strikeouts and walking just two to earn his first winning decision since July 28. More importantly, 65 percent of the pitches he threw were strikes (59 of 91). As there are three trends to Burnett’s starts, there are now three AJs: The Extreme AJ that’s either great or awful, and the AJ that’s in between. Not bad, not stellar, just good enough to win. The Yankees will take that last one every time.

For one more turn through the rotation, at least, Burnett is still a piece to the Yankees’ pitching puzzle.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver