A.J. Burnett's exile to the purgatory of middle relief may end if the Yankees advance to the American League Championship Series.
There is even an outside chance Burnett could pitch a deciding Game 5 against the Detroit Tigers, if Saturday's Game 2 is rained out.
Manager Joe Girardi said Friday that Burnett, who was removed from the starting rotation for the ALDS between the Yankees and the Tigers, could make a start in the ALCS.
"It's a good possibility," Girardi said in his office during a private chat with beat writers before the game. "We just decided to go with three starters for this round."
Burnett might even make a start in Game 5 of this series in the event of a Saturday rainout, which would adjust the schedule so that Ivan Nova, Girard's designated Game 2 and Game 5 starter, would be forced to pitch the final game on short rest.
The forecast for Saturday calls for thundershowers throughout the day, with a 40-to-50 percent chance of rain at game time Saturday night.
"Then, you'd have to worry about it," Girardi said.
Girardi chose Freddy Garcia, a 12-game winner this season, as the third starter and sent Burnett to the bullpen, where his role is undefined. He will not pitch the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, those slots being held by Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, respectively.
But Burnett could appear as one of the situational relievers in the sixth inning, or as a long man in the event a starter gets knocked out early or a game goes into extra innings. The Yankees have relied on right-handers Luis Ayala and Cory Wade and left-hander Boone Logan in those situations this season, and have added Phil Hughes to the bullpn mix for the postseason.
"I'll look at matchups," Girardi said. "A.J.'s role could be anything, but probably more of a distance guy for us. It probably would be hard to say to him, 'Get up and be ready in two hitters.' So you might use one of your other guys to get out of an inning and then go to A.J. for a couple of innings, that sort of thing."
Girardi said Burnett, who finished with an 11-11 record and a 5.15 ERA, took the news of his removal from the rotation well. After Girardi announced Garcia as his Game 3 starter, Burnett left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters Wednesday night in Tampa.
Girardi also said the move did not indicate a lack of confidence on the part of the manager that Burnett, who was expected to be the Yankees' No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia and is under contract for two more years at $16.5 million per season, still has the ability to start and win a big game for the Yankees.
"It was a tough decision between him and Freddy but we decided to go with Freddy because of his ability to pitch in tough situations and his experience," Girardi said. "But if I didn't have confidence in (A.J.), he wouldn't be on our roster."