Yankees' No. 3 ALDS starter up in air

Updated: September 24, 2011, 12:03 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- While confirming that New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia and Rookie of the Year candidate Ivan Nova will be two of his ALDS starters, manager Joe Girardi refused to close the door on A.J. Burnett's possibly starting a game.

When asked directly whether Burnett is still a possibility to start Game 3, Girardi declined to eliminate any of his potential starters. The Yankees are strongly considering starting Sabathia in Games 1 and 4, which would leave Nova for Game 2 and an opening in Game 3.

"Anyone could get a start in the ALDS; that is where we are right now," Girardi said. "I will continue to evaluate. A lot of it depends on who we play."

The Yankees know they are scheduled to host an ALDS Game 1 next Friday at Yankee Stadium, but they do not have an idea yet whom they will play. The most likely possibilities are the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers. It is still mathematically possible they could face the Los Angeles Angels, who are three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race.

Burnett, 34, is scheduled to start on Saturday against the Red Sox. He is 10-11 with a 5.28 ERA. He was brought to the Yankees to be Sabathia's playoff sidekick, but is on pace to become the first Yankees starter in team history with 150 innings and 5-plus ERA in back-to-back seasons.

This season, Burnett was 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts versus the Tigers. He did not face the Rangers this season, but had a 2.50 ERA in three regular-season starts in 2010. In Game 4 of last year's ALCS, he gave up five runs in six innings and took the loss.

Burnett, who has just two wins in his past 14 starts, was asked on Friday if he'd be disappointed if he didn't make the postseason rotation.

"I think we all would be, for sure," he said. "But I mean, I'm not oblivious to what happened this year either. I haven't pitched up to my capabilities so that's what the last week is for."

Phil Hughes, who has been hurt all year, could earn the Game 3 starter job, if he can come back from his latest back injury and pitch well early next week in Tampa. In one start against the Tigers, Hughes allowed five runs in four innings. He didn't start against Texas this season, but got smacked around twice (0-2, 11.42 ERA) in the ALCS last season.

Hughes is 5-5 with a 6.00 ERA on the season. He will throw a bullpen session Saturday to test his back.

Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the Yankees' reclamation projects, are two more candidates. Colon looked to have the inside track, but he has struggled down the stretch, including lasting just three innings and giving up five runs on Thursday against Tampa. Colon (8-10, 4.02 ERA) has seen his velocity drop 3-4 mph in recent starts, pumping his fastball around 90 mph. Since July 7, Colon is 2-7 with a 5.32 ERA.

Colon has an 11.73 ERA in 11 innings against Detroit this season. He started one game against Texas and lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up five runs.

Garcia, who was scheduled to start on Friday, entered at 11-8 with a 3.77 ERA. Garcia had one start against the Tigers and gave up four runs in seven innings. He threw six scoreless innings against Texas.

Girardi said that the final starts will help him determine what he will do.

"Of course it can," Girardi said. "We are going to take everything into account. It also is going to be swayed by who we play."

Andrew Marchand covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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