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Posts Tagged ‘A.J. Burnett’

Ever since Friday’s ALDS opener was suspended by rain, the specter of A.J. Burnett has hung over the Yankees like the Sword of Damocles. Now, with their backs to the wall, the team’s worst fears have been realized. Not only is Burnett making a postseason start that seemed improbable just a few weeks ago, but if he doesn’t pitch well, there’s a good chance the Yankees season will be over.

AJ Burnett was smiling before, but not after his 2010 ALCS start.

The Yankees have played 367 postseason games covering 71 series and 50 seasons. To say that the franchise’s October history is extensive would be an understatement. However, in all those games, only two have featured a starting pitcher for the Yankees with a higher regular season ERA (minimum of 100 innings) than the 5.15 rate Burnett will carry to the mound in tonight’s ALDS game 4. The last time the Yankees entrusted such an unlikely candidate with a playoff start was the fourth game of last year’s ALCS. Who was the pitcher? None other than A.J. Burnett.

Although it wasn’t an elimination game, the Yankees entered game 4 of the 2010 ALCS also needing Burnett to draw them even, but it proved to be too much to ask. Burnett, who posted a 5.26 ERA during the season, surrendered five runs over six innings in a 10-3 loss that pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination. This time around there is no margin for error. If Burnett turns in a similar performance tonight, the sword will fall.

Misery loves company, so joining Burnett in the exclusive club of ineffective starters given a playoff start for the Yankees is Irving Darius Hadley, better known as Bump. A journeyman right hander, Hadley joined the Yankees in 1936, and emerged as the team’s fifth starter. After going 14-4 with an ERA+ of 108, Hadley capped off his season with a 2-1 victory in the third game of the World Series.

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The Yankees and Tigers resume their ALDS showdown with what should have been the series opener, but has now developed into a pivotal third game. Entering the series, it was widely believed that the Tigers would need Justin Verlander to win two games in order to advance, but now that rain has limited him to only one full start, Detroit has been forced to a plan B.

One reason so much emphasis was placed on Verlander’s starts is because the other three pitchers in the Tigers’ rotation had never started a postseason game. Entering the series, the Yankees had been 54-33 in games featuring an opposing starter making his playoff debut, so at least from a historical standpoint, it’s easy to see why the rest of Detroit’s rotation might be a little vulnerable.

After Friday night’s rain limited Verlander’s first start to only one inning, it looked as if the Tigers would need a victory from their ace just to keep the series alive. However, thanks to Max Scherzer’s strong outing in game two, the team is now in position to take a commanding lead.

Top-10 Games vs. Yankees by a Starter Making His Postseason Debut, by Game Score

Player Date Series Gm# Opp Rslt GSc
Jack Sanford 10/5/1962 WS 2 SFG W 2-0 84
Ernie White 10/3/1942 WS 3 STL W 2-0 81
Fausto Carmona 10/5/2007 ALDS 2 CLE W 2-1 80
Jack Scott 10/6/1922 WS 3 NYG W 3-0 80
Don Newcombe 10/5/1949 WS 1 BRO L 0-1 79
Preacher Roe 10/6/1949 WS 2 BRO W 1-0 78
Joey Jay 10/5/1961 WS 2 CIN W 6-2 71
Joe Black 10/1/1952 WS 1 BRO W 4-2 71
Max Scherzer 10/2/2011 ALDS 2 DET W 5-3 69
Curt Simmons 10/10/1964 WS 3 STL L 1-2 69

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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A.J. Burnett tied a major league record shared by 54 others when he struck out four batters in the sixth inning of last night’s game against the Rockies. In addition to becoming the first Yankee to accomplish the feat, Burnett also became only the second pitcher to do it on at least two different occasions (he previously turned the trick on July 5, 2002 as a member of the Marlins). However, don’t blame Chuck Finley if he isn’t impressed. The Angels’ and Indians’ lefthander did it three times.

Chuck Finley struck out four batters in one inning on three different occasions.

Four strike outs in one inning is a rare enough feat. Since 1876, there have been 3,545,338 major league innings, so, in order to display the frequency of this accomplishment, scientific notation is needed. Considering the difficulty of getting four and the logistical barriers to five, Burnett’s shared record might be one of baseball’s most unbreakable. Just don’t tell that to Cliff Johnson.

On April 7, 1976, one day before the start of the regular season, the Houston Astros played an exhibition game against the Minnesota Twins in the New Orleans Superdome. The Astros starting battery that afternoon was Joe Niekro and Cliff Johnson, a utility man who played defense with his bat. The combination of Johnson’s suspect glove and Niekro’s knuckleball proved to be a recipe for a very unusual inning.

In the opening frame of the pre-season finale, Niekro faced six batters and struck out five. How was that possible? Johnson also had five passed balls in the inning, including two on third strikes. Had the game taken place one day later, the Astros’ knuckleballer would have owned one of the most improbable records in major league history. Even without the historical implications, Johnson had an inning he’ll probably never forget.

It was just a tough pitch to handle today. It was doing a little bit of everything. He was throwing it harder and the break on it was different.” – Cliff Johnson, quoted by AP, April 7, 1976

Although that inning in New Orleans wasn’t one of Johnson’s best moments in the big leagues, it might have been the turning point in Niekro’s career. Up until that point, the righthander was a journeyman already on his fifth major league team. Once known as a control artist who featured a more classic repertoire of fastball, slider and curve, Niekro was now in the process of reinventing himself as a knuckleball specialist.

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A.J. Burnett battled in his 2011 season debut, and not just against the Tigers’ lineup. The right hander also had to overcome the discomfort of a nasty head cold as well as the ghosts of a disastrous 2010 campaign. In the past, scrutiny compounded by distraction has often been a recipe for failure, but this time Burnett pitched well enough to win, and that’s exactly what the Yankees did.

AJ Burnett got 2011 off on the right foot with five solid innings against the Tigers (Photo: Getty Images).

Over the first four innings, Burnett was the good AJ. The only blip in those frames was a 3-2 fastball thrown to Austin Jackson that was subsequently deposited into the left field seats. Otherwise, the right hander used an explosive fastball and sharp breaking curve to keep the Tigers off balance in the early part of the game.

While Burnett sailed through the Tigers’ lineup, the Yankees jumping all over Brad Penny for six runs in the first two innings. The highlight of the early barrage was another three run homerun by Mark Teixeira, who has historically struggled in the early part of the season. After only two games, Teixeira now has two long balls and six RBIs. In 2010, the Yankees’ first baseman had two homeruns and nine RBIs in the entire month of April. Teixeira has made it his mission to avoid another slow start, and so far the early returns are encouraging.

AJ Burnett’s Pitch Breakdown

Pitch Type Avg. Speed Max Speed Count Strikes / % Swinging Strikes / %
Four Seam Fastball 93.04 95.1 55 40 / 72.73% 7 / 12.73%
Changeup 87.82 88.7 6 5 / 83.33% 0 / 0.00%
Knuckle-Curve 82.36 84.5 25 13 / 52.00% 4 / 16.00%

Source: brooksbaseball.net

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