The New York Yankees need to stop pretending they don't have an A.J. Burnett problem. Because they do. In fact, they have a HUGE A.J. Burnett problem.
Burnett was terrible on Sunday, surrendering four runs and beinggiven the hook by manager Joe Girardi in the second inning with the bases loaded. Reliever Luis Ayala didn't help, letting all three runners score to make Burnett's final tally seven earned runs in 1.2 innings pitched -- the shortest outing of the veteran right-hander's three seasons with the Yankees.
He compounded the situation, of course, by seeming to show up Girardi when the manager took the ball from him in the second. First by saying something and then by leaving the dugout and seemingly having the manager chase him into the tunnel and force him to return to the bench.
Girardi called questions about Burnett's apparent disrespect "really, really, silly" and "ridiculous." Burnett denied cursing at Girardi as he left the mound, saying the manager has "taken my back every day I’ve been here, (including) last year. No matter how boiling I’m going to be, I’m not going to say a swear at him. Not him. No chance."
Yet, the Yankees have continued to defend him. Both Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have continued to talk about how important the 34-year-old Burnett is to their rotation. They continue to pretend that Burnett can be a reliable part of their post-season rotation.
Problem is, that is not the first time this season Burnett has reacted angrily when removed from a game. The bigger problem is that Burnett, in the third year of a ridiculously large $82.5 million contract, has been mostly terrible for the past two seasons. He did so when Girardi pulled him in the fifth inning earlier this month when Burnett was frittering away a 13-7 lead.
Even Saturday, after Burnett's worst start in three Yankee seasons and his seemingly boorish, immature behavior Girardi tried to defend him.
"We need this guy to pitch. That’s the bottom line; we need him to pitch like he’s capable of pitching," Girardi said.
The Yankees need to stop imagining the kind of pitcher they think Burnett and his sometimes unhittable stuff should be, and start dealing realistically with the unreliable mess of a pitcher Burnett actually is.
He has a 9-10 record this season with a ballooning 4.96 ERA. Last season he went 10-15 with a career-worst 5.26 ERA. In his last seven starts Burnett is 1-3 with a 7.61 ERA. Opposing batters have hit .348 against him during that stretch and his WHIP checks in at 1.964. He has a 10.70 ERA in four August starts.
To put it mildly, Burnett has been terrible.
The Yankees need to stop pretending that Burnett is their No. 2 starter. They need to stop pretending that he is OK. That they need him to have success in the postseason.
What they need is to move on from the erratic, rock-headed 34-year-old. Burnett is now in his 13th big-league season. He had one great year with Toronto, going 18-10 and getting that five-year $82.5-million deal from the Yankees. He held it together enough in 2009 to go 13-9, 4.04 ERA and help the Yankees win the World Series.
There is no way around the fact that he has been awful for the past two seasons, though.
There is also no way around the fact that Girardi and Cashman defend Burnett not because of how wonderful of a pitcher he is, but they defend him and keep running him out to the mound because the Yankees still owe him roughly $40 million over the next two-plus seasons, and they are stuck trying to get something for their money.
He is the Yankees problem, whether they want to acknowledge that problem or not. Let's just hope they are smart enough not to gamble the outcome of postseason games on his erratic arm and his 10-cent head.