(Long Island, N.Y.) No one can knock a fiery competitor who wants to stay in the game to clean up his own mess. But was that the case this past Saturday when A.J. Burnett was removed in the second inning of the Yankees’ 9-4 loss at Minnesota? The disappointing right-hander was clearly upset while walking off the mound and his actions were hardly unnoticed.
Although he did some damage control by saying that his comments were not directed at manager Joe Girardi but rather catcher Russell Martin, Burnett has no one to blame but himself for the pitiful performance.
Even with the nail in the coffin being his final base on balls (on a pitch that both Burnett and Girardi thought was a strike), allowing seven runs on five hits and three walks in one and two thirds innings speaks for itself.
Expected to be the number two starter in the rotation behind ace CC Sabathia, Burnett has struggled this year. It has become progressively worse and Burnett’s numbers in his last nine starts are dreadful: 1-3 with a 6.93 ERA on 61 hits and 38 earned runs in 49 and one third innings. Those are the kind of stats that usually result in having a job title switch from starter to mop-up man.
But that is not expected just yet. His manager is hoping that Burnett (9-10, 4.96 ERA) can straighten out before too long. “We need this guy to pitch, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said to reporters. “We need him to pitch like he’s capable of pitching. He has struggled, his last few starts he has struggled. We’ve got to get him back on track.”
Now in his third season in New York, Burnett has had two subpar campaigns before this one. In the championship year of 2009, he went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. And last summer, Burnett fell to 10-15, 5.26. He also failed to throw at least 200 innings in 2010.
Prior to becoming a Yankee, Burnett, 34, was a steady if not spectacular pitcher for Florida and Toronto. He has a no-hitter under his belt and double-digit wins in six of his 10 seasons up until that point. In his walk year as a Blue Jay in 2008, Burnett reached a career high with 18 wins (against 10 losses) and had a 4.07 ERA in 34 starts. He also threw for 221 and a third innings with 231 strikeouts and 86 walks.
With the rotation having a few question marks as it is, Burnett will be needed to perform at his best to ensure that the Yankees clinch a playoff berth. But he will have to be more effective and go deeper into games to get the job done.
“You want to come out and set the tone as a starter,” he said to reporters after the loss to the Twins. “I didn’t do that, but I will be better. I know that.”
Everyone associated with the Yankees certainly hopes so.