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Monday, August 22, 2011
A.J. Burnett spot in question

By Andrew Marchand
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- With A.J. Burnett having his "typical terrible August," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that the pitcher's five-year, $82.5 million contract will not prevent him from being dropped from the rotation.

"No, money is never going to be a factor," Cashman told ESPNNewYork.com.

Cashman reiterated his staunch defense of Burnett from a little more than a week ago. However, a week from now, barring injury, the Yankees will have to make a decision about paring their rotation from six pitchers to five, and Burnett is on the bubble.

"We have six guys who can pitch in a pennant race, period," Cashman said. "A.J. Burnett is having his typical terrible August. For whatever reason, he can't pitch in August, I don't know why. It is what it is. August is obviously not an effective month for him."

In 15 August starts over the past three seasons as a Yankee, Burnett's ERA is 7.62 and he has only one win, which came this month. His record for the three Augusts is 1-8.

In the second half of this season, he is 1-3 with a 7.61 ERA in seven starts. Overall, he is 9-10 with a 4.96 ERA. Cashman added that Burnett "is not our No. 2 starter," but hasn't pitched poorly enough to be treated like "Oliver Perez."

Ivan Nova, who considers Burnett a mentor, may be the heir apparent as the Yankees' No. 2 playoff starter. Nova is 13-4 and has won nine games in a row. He could be the American League Rookie of the Year.

"We entered this season with the expectation that Nova could be a legitimate back-of-the-rotation starter in the American League East," Cashman said. "Obviously, he is making much stronger steps than that, which is great.

"He is one of our more dependable starters now, without a question. He's moved up the scale. Like anything else, you have a sliding scale. It is called a credibility scale. You can move high on that credibility scale with a positive performance or you can move lower with inconsistent performance."

When asked directly if Nova could be the team's ALDS No. 2 starter after CC Sabathia, Cashman went down the list of candidates. Noticeably absent was Burnett's name.

"We are going to have some interesting choices to make," Cashman said. "Past CC, you have some guys with experience and ability. Freddy Garcia knows how to pitch. Bartolo Colon has obviously had a tremendous year. Those guys are very experienced. You've got Phil Hughes, who was an 18-game winner, who was hurt, but now seems to be back to his first-half form of last year. You've got Nova, who is inexperienced, but obviously can't be beaten at this stage."

On Monday night, Garcia will make a rehab start at Triple-A Scranton to make sure the finger he cut in a kitchen accident is fine.

Beginning Tuesday, the Yankees play eight games in seven days, so a sixth starter is needed. Neither Cashman nor manager Joe Girardi like to tip his hand, and, as Cashman pointed out, these choices are often made for management by injuries.

Still, despite Burnett's defenders among the Yankees' hierarchy, his performance has made him the obvious man to be removed from the rotation -- if money indeed is not a factor.

"I admit without a doubt he has not pitched like a No. 2 and he is not our No. 2, the way he's thrown, without a doubt," Cashman said. "I thought a lot of the stuff was getting well overblown, treating him like he is Oliver Perez. That is irritating stuff and that is what I responded to [a little more than a week ago]."

Overall, though, the Yankees' starting pitching has been a surprising strength.

"During spring training, I openly spoke about how I get an incomplete," Cashman said. "When I was comparing the Yankees and the Red Sox, I talked about how the Red Sox had some obvious needs and they filled them. Whatever their question marks were, they answered them with some significant answers in the winter. We certainly tried things and I was unable to get those answers. We entered spring training with a team with questions remaining.

"We've had clearly a number of real positive resolutions to those questions. I think in terms of the rotation, especially, it has been significantly better than expected. It is probably better than a lot of the rotations we have been running out there the last number of years. In a season that you entered with maybe more questions that you ever had in I don't know how many years, we are approaching September with maybe a better rotation we have had in a number of years."

Entering play Monday, Yankees starters were sixth in the AL with a 3.83 ERA. The only year since 2004 they have rated higher was in 2009 (fifth), the only season in that span that ended with a championship parade. The rotation currently is on pace to throw the most innings (1,003) since 2003. Their winning percentage is .622 (61-37), which the highest since 2006 (.638).

Andrew Marchand covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. ESPN researcher Mark Simon contributed to this report.