Friday, August 12, 2011

AJ Burnett should be odd man out

The time has come for Joe Girardi to make a decision about the New York Yankees rotation. For me, it’s an easy call. AJ Burnett should be the odd man out.

Burnett has managed to keep his job, despite being unable to win a game since late June, only because of his big contract and fragile psyche. A lesser compensated and more emotionally stable pitcher would have been banished to the bullpen weeks ago based on performance alone. It’s time for the Yankees to stop coddling him and do what’s best for the team.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion for AJ. I do. I truly hope that someday he figures out a way to harness all that talent in a constructive way. But I don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the team, particularly Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, or the fans to keep Burnett in the rotation when he has not pitched well enough to deserve a spot.

Nova has elevated himself from being a borderline #5 pitcher to being the most reliable Yankees starter not named CC Sabathia and has proved time and time again that he belongs in the big leagues. And as shaky as Hughes has been this year, I still believe he will turn it around and pitch more games like his start against the White Sox last week. I just don’t have the same confidence in Burnett. I watch his starts always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I couldn’t enjoy his start against the Angels because I knew that at some point the real AJ would surface and blow the game. To be fair, the Yankees lost that game because of Mariano Rivera’s current pitching slump, but it does not breed confidence that Burnett couldn’t keep his emotions in check even in a game that he was dominating.

Team leaders Derek Jeter and Sabathia have tried to gentle coax Burnett out of his funk by stressing his importance to the team. But enough is enough. At some point, the Yankees have to admit that no amount of gentle coaxing or coddling is ever going to get Burnett to harness all his potential into being the dominating pitcher that he should be. I think that deep down Girardi knows that sending AJ to the bullpen is the right move to make. Girardi just has to have the heart to do it.

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