Maybe A.J. Burnett Should Be Skipped Instead of Phil Hughes

Three first inning homers sink Yankees and Burnett in desert

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    When A.J. Burnett turned in a series of disappointing starts during the 2009 season, his inability to work with Jorge Posada was blamed.

    Joe Girardi went as far as starting Jose Molina in playoff games to soothe the emotionally volatile starter. It all worked out well enough to get a World Series ring, although Burnett did melt down in a pair of playoff starts while Posada was chilling on the bench.

    Maybe that's why he didn't play the Posada card after getting lit up by the Diamondbacks on Monday night or maybe he knew no one would buy that when they realized that he's had awful starts with Posada, Francisco Cervelli and Chad Moeller behind the plate this season. So Burnett reached a bit deeper into his bag and laid some of the blame for his run of four terrible starts in a row on the absence of pitching coach Dave Eiland.

    "Dave is a big part of what we do here but I have been pitching for 11 years," Burnett said. "You would think I would make adjustments on my own. I am throwing the pitches whether Dave is in the dugout or not. I am a man, a pro athlete with a big contract, and I should be able to make adjustments on my own."

    The problem with this line of thinking is that pitching coaches don't tend to visit the mound to make adjustments when their pitchers get the first two outs of the first inning. Burnett got those outs with just nine pitches and then fell apart. A home run by Justin Upton, two singles and then back-to-back jacks by Adam LaRoche and Mark Reynolds dug a hole that his team wasn't climbing out of in Monday's 10-4 loss.

    Burnett gave up two more runs after getting the first two outs of innings later in the game as well and that theme from Monday night works as a shorthand way of regarding his entire career.

    Flashes of elite talent are buried under masses of mental errors and an unwillingness to change his style even when faced with evidence that there's a better way of approaching the game. Whenever Burnett is cruising and you're wondering how he's never won 20 games or challenged for a Cy Young Award, just remember Monday night and his inability to get a third out.

    It may make the Yankees sick to admit it, but that's not a Posada problem nor an Eiland problem. It's a Burnett problem and it is one that is theirs for three more years. 

    There's not much chance of giving Burnett a breather to work things out on the side, either. Thanks to a pair of off days, the Yankees are skipping Phil Hughes until next Tuesday against Seattle so they can manage his innings without resorting to the nonsense they tried with Joba Chamberlain last season. It's the only time he'll be shifted before the All-Star Game and one can only come up with one complaint about the plan to limit the injury risk to Hughes.

    It means Burnett will start twice in a six-game span. Right now that's tantamount to forfeit.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.