Joe Girardi plans to trim Yanks rotation

Updated: August 29, 2011, 11:06 AM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

BALTIMORE -- Here we go again.

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi hopes to cut his team's starting rotation from six to five after the Yanks' three-game series against the Boston Red Sox concludes Thursday.

There has been plenty of speculation over which starter will get demoted when they trim the rotation to five, but logic dictates that A.J. Burnett is the odd man out.

Burnett, who has just one win in his last ten starts, will get the ball on Thursday in Boston. Girardi acknowledged on Sunday that the start will be a "big one" for Burnett but insisted he and the Yankees brass will not base their demotion decision on one start.

Each pitcher will have a turn in the rotation before the end of the Red Sox series.

Bartolo Colon started the first game of Sunday's doubleheader and Ivan Nova will get the ball in the night game. Freddy Garcia, who hasn't pitched in three weeks due to a cut on his right index finger, will start Monday's series finale in Baltimore.

In Boston, CC Sabathia will start Tuesday's opener, Phil Hughes will pitch the middle game Wednesday and Burnett takes the ball on Thursday.

"I'm not just gonna base it on one outing. I don't think that's fair to do to pitchers," Girardi said of his decision to demote a starter. "But the bottom line is that we need to pitch well. If we're going to win this division we have to pitch better and right now we've run into a little bump. And that's not abnormal to go through during the course of the season, but we need to turn it around."

After a strong start, Colon has struggled of late. He has two wins in his last nine starts, pitching to a 5.21 ERA and allowing batters to hit .311 in that span. Hughes had been solid since coming off of the disabled list in July. But that was before his last start, in which he allowed six runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings against Oakland (two were courtesy of a home run allowed by the reliever that followed him).

Nova has won all five of his starts since returning from Triple-A on July 30, vaulting himself into the conversation for American League Rookie of the Year. Sabathia is a lock to stay in the rotation for the Yankees, who began play Sunday two games behind Boston in the AL East.

Burnett, on the other hand, is far from a lock. He is 1-5 in his last nine starts with a 7.79 ERA and an opponent batting average of .314 over that span. The 34-year-old is 3-3 with a .600 ERA in nine career starts at Fenway Park, where he gets the ball Thursday.

"We need him to pitch better, that's the bottom line. So yeah, Thursday or whatever his day is, is a big start," Girardi said.

The Yankees have another doubleheader sometime during their three-game series against Tampa in the Bronx from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22. In all likelihood, they will add a sixth starter to the rotation to get through that doubleheader.

They will also have to play their final 33 games in the remaining 32 days of the regular season, which could affect rotation decisions.

Despite multiple suggestions of other options from the Yankees, the Orioles stood firm on playing a day-night doubleheader on Sunday and making up the final game of this five-game series on Sept. 8, the day before the Yankees leave for a six-game West Coast swing.

Girardi was asked why the Yankees were against playing back-to-back doubleheaders on Sunday and Monday in Baltimore, which was one offer made by the Orioles.

"Physically how do you do that? How do you physically do that when you're playing day after day after day," said Girardi. "... I don't think it's possible and it's not fair to the product of the game. It's one thing if you have to make them up at the end of the year and it's the last two days of the season ... and you have extra bodies."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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