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Burnett should not start in October
After his scattershot start at Rogers Centre on Monday night, Burnett’s place in the Yankees’ playoff plans should be in jeopardy. But manager Joe Girardi refused to address the subject after New York’s 7-5 loss.
In fact, Girardi remained so tight-lipped about all matters beyond Game 162 that he would have required Freedom of Information Act paperwork to admit that October does indeed follow September on the calendar.
And that is precisely the problem with these Yankees.
Girardi is managing like someone desperate to reach the postseason, instead of a man who fully expects to defend his title.
“I’m not going to talk a whole lot about playoffs until we know we’re in,” said Girardi, whose team has lost 14 of 21. “You gotta get there first. We’re not there.”
OK. But we’re talking about THE NEW YORK YANKEES here. They have a magic number of one. They are not going to end the season on a six-game losing streak. They know they are going to the playoffs. And if they don’t, they should fake it. Or try to acquire Johnny Damon’s panache (if not his bat) for the season’s final week.
Instead, Girardi affirmed two decisions after the loss that run counter to the Yankees’ stated goal of winning the World Series:
• Burnett will remain in the rotation, despite his bungling effort against the Blue Jays (2 1/3 innings, seven earned runs).
• CC Sabathia, the staff ace, will start Tuesday against Toronto.
Burnett, with a 7.28 ERA since Aug. 1, doesn’t deserve to start in the playoffs. So he has no business pitching this weekend, during what should be a postseason pace lap against the Red Sox. In this scrimmage, the first string needs to play.
When asked about the postseason rotation, Burnett offered, “Joe’s going to make the decision on his own. He saw what I did last year in the postseason.”
How could he forget? Burnett had a 5.27 ERA.
Sabathia, meanwhile, should be pitching on Friday, not Tuesday. That way, he would start on regular rest in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Instead, CC will have seven days off before Game 1. That’s too many for a workhorse who did quite well last October on short rest.
If the Yankees were functioning as their brash, confident selves, Girardi would have worn a self-assured smile after Monday’s loss and told the world that Javier Vazquez would be his starting pitcher on Tuesday.
Please allow me to explain.
I am fully aware that Vazquez has had a lousy second tenure with the Yankees. (“Timid” might be the better adjective.) He plunked three Rays in a row during his last outing. So, yeah, his reputation for coming up small is intact.
But look at it this way: His second-half inconsistencies don’t look so awful in comparison to Burnett’s. In fact, Vazquez has the lower ERA (albeit barely) over the past two months. At this point, he is no more combustible than the Pie Man.
Plus, he’s ready. Physically, that is. Vazquez told me Monday night that he had thrown a bullpen session two days prior — in other words, as if he had started instead of relieved while throwing 60 pitches last Thursday.
I asked Vazquez if he is stretched out enough to start. He said yes. After all, he lasted three innings (two earned runs) in that appearance. If Burnett had pitched that “well” on Monday, the Yankees might have clinched.
Also, let’s not overestimate the task at hand. The Yankees don’t need a vintage Sabathia start on Tuesday. They would take five or six decent innings opposite Toronto rookie Kyle Drabek, who has yet to win a game in the major leagues. And they need those innings from someone who is not preoccupied with getting ready for a postseason start. Vazquez qualifies.
If he flops, oh well. Andy Pettitte would be ready to start on Wednesday, followed by Sabathia and Phil Hughes during the first two games in Boston. I have a hard time thinking the Yankees, with the most potent offense in the American League, would go 0-for-3 there.
Most importantly, Girardi would have his pitchers lined up for the playoffs. Sabathia would go on regular rest in Game 1, and Girardi could give Pettitte and Hughes extra time to prepare for Games 2 and 3, in some order.
The Yankees could make it through a five-game ALDS with just three starting pitchers — as long as Sabathia pitches on short rest once. But the plan will spin off its axis if Sabathia takes the mound on Tuesday. He will have too much rest before the playoffs begin, which can be worse than not enough.
By starting Vazquez on Tuesday, Girardi would show the proper amount of faith in his players: I know you’re good enough to win at least one of these last five games, so I’m going to plan for the ultimate goal that all of us want to achieve.
Plus, it would be a nice opportunity for Vazquez to show that he deserves the coveted long-relief role during the ALDS. He should like his chances. The chief competition wasn’t too impressive on a pieless, pitiful Monday.
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