Discussion: Starting AJ Burnett Tonight

Tonight is a very big game for the Yankees. I don’t like to throw around the cliche that it is a must-win game until it actually becomes a must-win, but tonight is pretty close.

If the Yankees lose tonight they go down in the series 3-1 and would have to win three games in a row, including two in Texas and one against Cliff Lee to move on to the World Series. So while the Yankees could technically lose tonight and win the series, it would drastically decrease their odds of doing so.

Taking the mound tonight is A.J. Burnett. The Yankees feel that they are being forced into using Burnett because they don’t want to force their other pitchers into pitching on short rest. But the Yankees are making a huge mistake by not at least using CC Sabathia on short rest tonight.

I’ve already said that tonight is a big game so it would make sense to use the pitcher that gives you the best chance at winning tonight’s game which of course would be Sabathia. He would have to pitch on short rest, but so what? Part of the reason the Yankees signed Sabathia for so much money is because they thought he was the type of pitcher that could handle exactly these situations. To avoid using him in this situation is irresponsible on manager Joe Girardi’s part.

Girardi is probably thinking that he wants to avoid using his other starters, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, on short rest as well. That’s fine. He can use Sabathia tonight to even up the series and go back to Burnett tomorrow night with the Yankees having a little bit more breathing room.

By keeping Sabathia out of this game, Girardi is also taking away any chance he could use him in game seven as well. That’s a game Lee is lined up to start again and it would be nice to at least have the option of going with Sabathia that night. Sure, it would be pitching CC on short rest twice in a row, but again that’s part of the reason the Yankees paid him so much money.

Here is another situation though, using Pettitte and Hughes on short rest is probably smarter than using Burnett at all. At this point in the season it is win or go home. There is no need to save these guys for down the road because there is just one more series after this and there is no guarantee that the Yankees are even getting that far.

The smart thing to do seems to be to start Sabathia tonight which puts the Yankees best starter on the mound for a huge game tonight. If they win and even up the series 2-2 then you can use Burnett tomorrow and hope for a big game from the Yankees offense. If the Yankees lose than you can start Hughes on short rest for the game of his life. It might not be the ideal situation, but I would argue that it gives the Yankees a better chance of winning than starting Burnett at all.

The next night you could go back to Pettitte on short rest. After his past two starts against Minnesota last week and Texas last night, there probably aren’t many people wondering how his groin is doing. He’s healthy, let him pitch, even on short rest.

More than anything here, I think the biggest issue at hand is Sabathia. He’s the Yankees horse. He needs to be pitching tonight even if you feel compelled to avoid using Hughes and Pettitte on short rest. Start Sabathia tonight and pitch Burnett tomorrow. At least that gives you the option of having Sabathia going again in game seven.

The Yankees leaned heavily on their starting staff in 2009 and regularly used pitchers on short rest and it paid off big time. It’s hard to see why they are so afraid of doing something similar in 2010. The other option last season was Chad Gaudin, who was actually pitching well at the time. This year the option is Burnett, who has been downright awful lately.

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