A.J. Burnett: Last Night's Hard Luck Loser Aiming In Right Direction
A.J. Burnett has undoubtedly earned his fair share of losses during the 2010 season, but this surely wasn't one of them.
Seeing his second out of his last three starts truncated due to inclement weather, A.J. had no chance to stick around long enough to pitch the requisite five innings to earn a victory. Instead, after allowing only a single run in the top of the first, A.J.'s night was finished when a severe downpour interrupted the game in the bottom of the third inning.
The storm and accompanying lightning show lasted over two hours, meaning A.J. was done for the evening, and since the Yankees' offense never recovered from the early deficit, A.J. was saddled with the unfortunate decision.
Just what a 10-14 pitcher needed, to be handed a loss for a game that he only somewhat influenced. Trying to fight his way back from an atrocious August, Burnett needs these last few starts to restore confidence in his abilities and to potentially earn a place in the Yankee post-season rotation.
Although Burnett did receive his 14th defeat of the season, not all was lost for the struggling right-hander. Continuing a positive September trend of solid to good starts, he is once again resembling the pitcher the Yankees need him to be, rather than the impostor with the terrible command and negative body language that has surfaced all too often over the last few months of the season.
His start last night against Tampa wasn't flawless, but his stuff looked sharp, and he generally appeared to have an idea where each pitch was headed, which isn't always the case for him. Despite starting off poorly, with an 0-2 lead-off single to John Jaso, then a full-count walk to Ben Zobrist, he limited the first inning damage to one run, but that would be the lone run responsible for his loss.
Despite allowing two walks and two hits in only three innings, the good news was that he possessed command within the strike zone. He threw first pitch strikes to 11 of the 13 batters he faced, which was a great indication of his ability to locate his pitches and throw them confidently. When A.J. goes bad, his fastball is erratic, and his breaking pitches are bouncing all over the place, allowing hitters to eliminate those from their thought process and wait for fastballs served over the plate.
After suffering through five August starts, in which he was 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA, A.J. has been desperately in need of a string of rebound performances, in order to convince the Yankees not to skip him in the playoffs. It was a very real danger, as he had appeared to completely lose his command, as well as confidence in any of his pitches.
September though, has seen him return to at least a semblance of the pitcher he was early in the year, when he used his brilliant stuff to stifle offenses throughout April and May.
Over five starts in September, A.J. has gone 1-2, with a 4.33 ERA, while striking out 26 men in 27 innings. He has allowed 25 hits, as well as 12 walks, so there is improvement to be made, but he has only allowed three homeruns in that span, so the Yankees feel that he is moving in the right direction.
Since Burnett will likely start two more games before the end of the regular season, he possesses a further opportunity to impress the Yankees so that they won't hesitate to send him out to mound in critical October games. If the Yankees are to repeat their success of 2009, and defend the World Series title that they currently hold, the rotation will need to be firing on all cylinders to defeat the talent-laden teams lining up to mount a challenge to last season's champions.