Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hughes earned right to stay in rotation

Phil Hughes has earned the right to stay in the New York Yankees rotation. AJ Burnett has not.

Burnett will get another start because of Freddy Garcia’s unfortunate hand injury (I agree with Joe Girardi that players should avoid knives at all costs). Sunday’s washout prevented us from seeing how AJ would handle another turn in the Yankees rotation. But Burnett has the full support of Brian Cashman and that carries a lot of weight. Cashman’s passionate, but ill-advised defense of Burnett (he has had some good games, but he has not pitched as well as the general manager would like us to believe) could mean that Phil Hughes ends up as the odd man out in the Yankees rotation. It’s completely unfair because Hughes has pitched much better than Burnett recently, but I think Girardi and Cashman are stuck with Burnett.

After a rough couple of starts in his return from the disabled list, Hughes has put together a string of good performances, including his dominant, rain-shortened shutout of the Chicago White Sox. And Hughes made the decision even tougher for his manager and general manager with another strong start yesterday. If the choice was simply based on performance, Burnett would be the one headed to the bullpen.

But it won’t be. It will be based on a combination of factors: Burnett’s big-money contract (which should have no bearing but does), Hughes’ previous success as Mariano Rivera’s set-up man in 2009, Hughes’ maturity, even-keeled nature and strong psyche versus the fragile Burnett. The Yankees constantly walk on eggshells with Burnett and will avoid a bullpen demotion at all costs for fear that they will lose him for good. They know that won’t be a problem with Hughes, who will manage his disappointment and be ready when called upon.

But that doesn’t make it right. In the big leagues, players are supposed to earn their jobs and perform well to keep them. In Yankees world, that seems to apply to everyone but AJ Burnett.

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