Friday, September 23, 2011

A.J. Burnett Will Get Third Spot In Yankees Rotation By Default

It's a good bet A.J. Burnett will be the New York Yankees' No. 3 starter in the playoffs, unless he totally gets blown out of the water in tomorrow's start against the Boston Red Sox.

After CC Sabathia and rookie Ivan Nova, the Yankees will have no other choice but to give the job to Burnett due to old injuries and older age to the other starters.  The pivotal spot won't be awarded to Burnett based on his performance, as much as by default.  

It's more like a Two-and-a-Half Men rotation with Burnett being as welcome as Charlie Sheen on that show's set-- with a paycheck to match.

Only difference, Winning is definitely not in Burnett's vocabulary.

Everything was looking pretty rosy for the Yankees and their six-man rotation up until only a few days ago.

Leading up to the playoffs, Phil Hughes had thrown three strong games and was ready to take over the No. 3 spot until an MRI showed that the back spasms which forced him from pitching on Wednesday were an old spine injury flaring up again.

Up until then, Hughes (5-5, 6.00 ERA) had been the most consistent starter after Sabathia and Nova and appeared to be the logical No. 3.  Now, a herniated disc injury from seven years ago has reared its burning head and has to be a concern to the team regarding Hughes' long-term prognosis.

The Yankees are confident he can make one more start in a meaningless game before the playoffs, but they need a fully healthy Hughes on the mound and probably won't take a chance on the disc flaring up during a pivotal playoff game, so it looks like the bullpen for the 25 year-old.

That leaves Burnett, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia looking for on spot behind Sabathia and Nova; and none of them have been spanking any teams over the past few weeks. 

It looks like Colon and Garcia have just plain run out of steam.  The two veteran pitchers played beyond any one's expectations and carried the Yankees for a good portion of the season but it looks like Father Time has come a calling.

Colon's chances of making the New York Yankees playoff rotation took a big hit last night when he was pounded by the Tampa Bay Rays for seven runs (five earned) in three innings.

The one-time No. 3 front-runner, Colon (8-10), is winless in his last nine starts and has an ERA of 5.09 since the All-Star break.

Manager Joe Girardi has already hinted at being unsure about Colon's future and it looks like the pitcher's stock has fallen off the chart.

The 38 year-old Colon was, at times, brilliant this season and the Yankees off-season pick-up exceeded all expectations.  The beefy hurler came back after almost two years of inactivity and hasn't pitched a full season since 2006 due to injuries. 

Garcia is more of a mystery.  The other bargain basement pick-up was consistent up until a few weeks ago.  The 35 year-old was always hittable but seemed to pitch himself out of any jams until recently.  Now, opposing players are using him like a batting tee and that won't do in the third game of a playoff series.

Over his last two starts, Garcia has been rocked for 11 earned runs in seven innings.  Not good enough for a short-- or long-- series.

Which leads us to Burnett.  What hasn't been said about the $82 million dollar enigma that wasn't a headline on the back page?  From funny haircuts, cussing out the manager and mound meltdowns, the tattooed Burnett has done it all-- and badly.

The inconsistent pitcher has been given a second life by Girardi, oh...  about half a dozen times.  Two weeks ago it looked like the bullpen for the cantankerous righthander but, like some pinstriped vampire, he keeps arising and sucking the life from the team. 

Over his last 10 starts, Burnett has been lit up like a Times Square billboard.  He has allowed 46 earned runs over 52 innings and it would have been more if Girardi didn't yank him in the fifth the other night.

Through it all, Girardi has come to bat for Burnett too many times to let his whipping boy stew in the bullpen.  After all, the Yankees are already loaded in that department.

So it comes down to attrition after the big gun Sabathia (19-8) and the white-hot Nova (16-4).  

Expect Girardi to go to Sabathia in a game 4 on short rest--  even if the ace of the staff has not been a sure thing over the past month.

Garcia will get one more shot against a reeling Red Sox tonight in a desperate bid to win the No. 3 spot.  Unless he throws a perfect game, expect to see old A.J. warming up for Game 3 in two weeks.

Funny, the Yankees started the season worrying about their starting pitching and head into the playoffs with the same concerns.  How did they manage to win in between?

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