Joe Girardi announced yesterday that A.J. Burnett will pitch tomorrow night’s Game 4, regardless of what happens in tonight’s Game 3. After the jump, three reasons why that’s the right move.
1. Yes, starting Burnett in Game 4 isn’t ideal if the Yankees are down two games to one, since a loss could bring them within a game of elimination. But remember that opting not to pitch Burnett tomorrow wouldn’t mean he’s out of the rotation entirely. It would simply mean he’d have to start Wednesday, when they could potentially be down three games to one, and facing elimination. That’s a much scarier scenario, and if they lose tonight — which is the only way they’d have considered pitching someone other than Burnett tomorrow, anyway — it’s not an implausible one.
2. A CC Sabathia start in Game 4 doesn’t equal an automatic victory. Sabathia’s still this team’s best and most reliable pitcher, but he struggled in Game 1 and was far from dominant against the Twins. And though starting Sabathia on short rest hasn’t been a problem in the past, it won’t do much to help break him out of this mini-slump. Starting him in Game 5 as planned allows him to start on his regular four days of rest for the first time since September 28, when the Yankees clinched a playoff berth in Toronto.
3. An A.J. Burnett start doesn’t equal an automatic loss. Yes, Burnett’s been terrible for long stretches of this season, but let’s not lump him in with the Kei Igawas of the world. He can be very good, or at least good enough to win a playoff game, and who knows how he’ll respond to fifteen days of rest. As we’ve written before, it’s a high-risk, high-reward situation: He could allow seven runs in two innings, but unlike most pitchers capable of such disastrous outings, his stuff is good enough that he could also allow two runs over seven innings. But it’s a risk they’ll have to take at some point, and the smart move is to take it tomorrow, no matter what.