Will this be A.J.’s last stand?
Are we approaching A.J. Burnett’s last turn in the Yankees’ rotation?
Given his contract situation, it’s unlikely that even if Burnett flops in Baltimore on Friday, he’d never take the ball in pinstripes again. Yet the Yankees are coming to the point where they need to make a call on Burnett, having pushed six starters into five slots just about as long as they can and planning to fix that up after Saturday’s doubleheader at Camden Yards.
There’s no getting around it: Burnett has been unreliable for some time, and his incident with Joe Girardi on the mound at Target Field over the weekend just drew even more attention to the struggles, giving up seven runs on five hits in 1 2/3 innings Saturday as the Yankees lost, 9-4.
It doesn’t really matter much if Burnett’s three-word rant (two of which were no-nos) was directed at Girardi or the fact that Joe Mauer was credited with a ball on a pitch that Burnett thought should have been a strike.
What matters more are these numbers: Since beating the Brewers on June 29, Burnett is 1-4 with a 6.93 ERA in nine starts, having only beaten the last-place Royals on Aug. 15 (permitting 10 hits but only three runs in a 5 2/3 inning outing). Opponents are hitting .308 with a .916 OPS over that span against Burnett, who started the year with such promise of returning to form but has essentially been a batting practice pitcher over this recent stretch. His ERA in August alone is 10.70.
Meanwhile, Phil Hughes has won his last three starts and finally seems to be rounding into form. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are safe in the rotation. Freddy Garcia just made it through a rehab start on Monday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and even though Bartolo Colon may be approaching the point where he’ll be running on fumes, the Yankees must feel better about their chances to win on any given day with the ball in his hand than Burnett’s.
So, what to do? He could dominate the Orioles and change all the buzz, but if you have to make a call at this moment, it looks like the Yankees have a $16.5 million long reliever — or, roughly, someone earning 16 times what they were hoping to pay Sergio Mitre to do the job.