A Good Day for Yankee Pitching

Yankees win fourth in a row behind A.J. Burnett.

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 8:27 AM EDT
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A Good Day for Yankee Pitching

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Wouldn't that picture be more fun with a cartoon angel dancing on his shoulder?

If YES had a more creative production team, they'd put a cartoon angel and devil on A.J. Burnett's shoulders during every one of his starts.

Whenever A.J. got an out, the angel could bash the devil in the head with a croquet mallet or drop kick him into a vat of bubbling oil. When the opposition scored a run, you'd flip things around and you could end Burnett's night with one of the two characters capering around on the mound all by themselves.

It would work because there aren't many pitchers that feel like they are walking the line between success and total disaster the way Burnett does every time he starts. We're all familiar with Bad A.J. by this point, the pitcher who allows small problems to snowball into five-run innings and winds up punching things in the dugout when circumstances force him from the game.

Wednesday night seemed like the perfect moment for that devil on his shoulder to take over and end the Yankees winning streak. Burnett ran into trouble in the first, fourth and sixth innings and it felt like the Brewers were a hit away from breaking the game open each time, but Burnett never let it happen and wound up snapping a personal three-game losing streak. 

The final numbers -- seven hits, two walks, four strikeouts in seven innings -- are fairly pedestrian for a guy who was signed to be something more than that, but the Yankees will surely take the result. The 5-2 win was their fourth in a row and it got Burnett through a third month of a season that is looking nothing like his brutal 2010.

There are some red flags -- an abnormally low batting average on balls in play -- but also some encouraging signs as Burnett is actually underperforming relative to the parts of the game he can control all on his own. The biggest difference isn't really quantifiable, though, and that's the way Burnett navigates his way through situations that wound up crushing him last season.

If things work out well for the Yankees, Phil Hughes will have a similar change in fortunes when he returns to the big club. He made another rehab start in Trenton on Wednesday and impressed Brian Cashman enough during his 85 pitches for the general manager to call him "explosive."

He'll be back soon, though not as soon as Bartolo Colon. He's going to start on Saturday against Citi Field -- which is suddenly a scary proposition for any pitcher -- and if all goes well that will keep the Yankees on the torrid pace they've been on throughout the month.

Throw in the return of Sergio Mitre, purchased from the Brewers and replacing Buddy Carlyle in the bullpen, and there's lots to like about the state of the Yankees staff these days. We'd still like to see the animated enhancements to Burnett's starts, though.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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