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A.J. ineptitude is situation, not a crisis

LOS ANGELES -- Oh, the agony of being a Yankees fan!

What to do about A.J. Burnett? What to do about Chan Ho Park? What to get Derek Jeter for his birthday? Oh, the worries. Oh, the problems.

The Yankees lost 9-4 to the Dodgers on Saturday afternoon and, for the fifth straight time, Burnett was terrible. So -- surprise, surprise -- was Park. Jeter's 36th birthday hat nearly wound up being a golden sombrero. The Yankees went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, they wasted a three-run lead on Mark Teixeira's first-inning home run and Alex Rodriguez still hasn't shaken hands with Joe Torre.

And you know what? They still have the best record in baseball, they're still 18 games over .500 and they're still first in the AL East, two games ahead of the Red Sox and Rays.

And they have only three months in which to get Burnett back on track.

I mean, you should have such problems.

The Burnett situation -- and make no mistake, it is by now a full-fledged Situation -- is just the latest red herring in a season where so many things seem to be going wrong, and yet everything is all right.

They went through this already with Javier Vazquez, who couldn't get anyone out in April but pitched like an ace in May and June. They went through it with A-Rod, who went weeks between home runs, went out for a few days with an ominous aching near his right hip and, except for the fact he and Torre still haven't kissed and made up, is doing just fine.

They went through it with Joba Chamberlain and Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson, and now Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre.

So no wonder that even after having watched Burnett surrender at least six runs for the third consecutive start, and fourth in his last five, Joe Girardi can sit in the dugout after the game, his jaw clenched tightly, and insist, "I've said all along he is going to get out of this, and he will."

Or visit the mound, as he did in the third inning as Burnett was rapidly unraveling, and order him simply to "Stop it! Stop it now!" like a dad admonishing his unruly kids in the back of the minivan on a long road trip.

With the lead they have built up, and with the rest of the rotation pitching like a winning poker hand -- four aces -- Girardi and the Yankees have the luxury of taking as much time as they need to straighten out the talented but fragile Burnett.

That is why -- unlike with Vazquez, to whom he applied the tough-love treatment of pulling him from the rotation and sentencing him to bullpen detention -- Girardi is taking the kid-gloves approach with Burnett. After all, he can't possibly beat Burnett up any worse than Burnett beats up himself.

"We need A.J.," Girardi said. "I don't want to pull him from the rotation. My gut tells me he's not going to benefit from that right now. I want A.J. to go out there and pitch the way he's capable of pitching. He has the ability to pitch well and he's going to pitch well. My gut tells me to run him out there again."

Burnett, whose record dropped to 6-7 and ERA soared to 5.25, agreed with his manager. "Believe it or not, this is the best I've felt in a while out there," he said. "I can't wait to pitch my next start. I wish I could go out there and pitch again tomorrow."

He even compared himself to a fighter jock straight out of the movie "Top Gun" -- "Keep sending me up. Keep sending me up," he said.

But unlike Girardi, Burnett occasionally allows glimpses into his true psyche to emerge, that of a pitcher who is well-known for losing his composure on the mound when things begin to go wrong.

"My bullpen [on Thursday] was unbelievable, my pregame was unbelievable, and I had unbelievable stuff today," he said. "Then, in the third inning, I just lost it. I'm stressing out. Well, not really stressing out, but adding more instead of taking some off, speeding up instead of slowing down. I'm trying too hard, overdoing it. That's the bottom line."

It was a remarkable display of self-flagellation disguised as self-analysis, which is what Burnett's postgame interviews have become over the past month. His performance Saturday night, in which he began giving back the 3-0 lead Teixeira furnished him with as soon as he began pitching, completed a month in which he compiled the worst ERA in franchise history (11.35) by any Yankees pitcher with at least five starts.

Let that sink in for a moment. No Yankees pitcher in the history of this storied franchise has ever had a worse month than A.J. Burnett's June 2010.

And yet, he and his manager insist this too shall pass, and both seem to realize that even if it takes three more months for Burnett to get over it, well, so what? The Yankees would love Burnett to pitch up to his five-year, $82.5 million contract, but they don't really need him to until, say, October.

"You can't just throw in the towel on a guy," Girardi said. "That's not what you do. Every great player has been through this. I don't care who you are. Every great player has been through slumps, and he's a great player. He's just going to have to fight his way through this."

Lucky for Burnett and the Yankees, they can afford to make this into a distance fight.

GAME NOTES: Boone Logan, brought in to relieve Burnett two batters into the fourth inning, did little to help, allowing an inherited runner to score in addition to one of his own. ... Park had another miserable outing, allowing two runs on three hits in the seventh. ... David Robertson continues to bounce back from his early rough stretch, pitching a strong eighth. ... On his 36th birthday, Jeter started well with a walk and a single in his first two at-bats, but then struck out his final three times up, all with runners in scoring position. ... The Dodgers sold out for the second straight day with an announced attendance of 56,000, which is the official capacity of Dodger Stadium. ... Sunday's pitching matchup: Andy Pettitte, off to the best start of his 16-year career -- his 9-2 record and 2.48 ERA the best he has ever had after 14 starts in any season -- faces LHP Clayton Kershaw (7-4, 3.24). First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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