If Ivan Nova is super tonight, does the young right-hander deserve a spot in the New York Yankees rotation? After A.J. Burnett's implosion last night, it might be a credible thought; although Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed Burnett would make his next scheduled start Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels.
When last seen last night, Burnett was headed to the locker room, popping buttons all over the dugout as he ripped off his Yankees jersey.
Burnett's seven-run debacle against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field had to concern Girardi.
The Yankees were ahead, 13-1, and Burnett allowed five runs in the fourth-inning. In the fifth, Girardi made the decision to yank his inefficient starter with two men on the corners. He gave up seven earned runs in all.
Girardi did the exact thing with Phil Hughes a couple of weeks ago when the Oakland A's started to chip away at a big Yankee lead.
This four-game series against the White Sox was originally an audition for the No. 5 slot in the rotation between Hughes and Nova but now, with Burnett's flame-out, it could now be a rotation casting call.
Hughes passed his screen test with flying colors. His six-inning, three-hit, no runs, rain-shortened gem probably secured the slot for Hughes handily.
Tonight is Nova's turn to be seen. In what was essentially a go-see could possibly turn into something more important-- a spot on the roster.
Nova is making his second appearance after being sent down to Triple-A to make room on the roster for Hughes. He has won his past five decisions by sporting a 3.26 ERA, with 28 strikeouts and 12 walks in 38 2/3 innings. Nova has been the beneficiary of a robust Yankees offense. The team has averaged nine runs during those starts while Nova has given up six home-runs and 34 hits during that span. Amazingly, the 9-4 pitcher is fighting a demotion back to Triple-A.
Burnett is going in the opposite direction. His ERA has steadily climbed every month since April and his 4-0 start. He was 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA in July and is now 8-9 with a 4.56 ERA for the season.
A couple of things keep Burnett in the rotation . One, his huge contract ($16.5 mil-a year with two more to go) and two, the underlying hope (and capability) that the Sybil-like righty can throw a brilliant game. Still, Burnett is untradeable and will never see the bullpen for that price.
When Burnett is on, he is great but when he is alternately off, he is horrible. It's not uncommon for Burnett to strike out a side one inning then, in the next, throw a wild pitch, hit a batter and walk in a run. I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's done all three at the same time. Baseball's first Triple-Bobble.
"His day will be on Wednesday," said Girardi, putting the kibosh on any talk that Burnett's position is in jeopardy. "His numbers aren't that bad. We look at the whole year, and A.J.'s been decent for us. He's starting on Wednesday."
Girardi had that same 'look at the past' outlook with Hughes the past few weeks until Hughes came through. The Yankees are winning, even with the rotation distraction, and are only one game behind the division leading Boston Red Sox and have an eight game lead in the wild card race. So Girardi doesn't want to rock the boat.
As for last night's benching, Burnett was already off the mound when Girardi came out to relieve him. The embarrassed pitcher slapped the ball into his manager's hand and stormed off-- only two outs from a win. Girardi didn't take it personally but, didn't take chances either.
"I'm frustrated for him," said Girardi. "Because that's a night that he should be able to go out and get a win."
Burnett meanwhile, knew what was coming.
"I was a little upset, but then again, you got to look at how I'm pitching too," said Burnett. "I wasn't exactly doing anything out there. You've got to stop the bleeding somehow."
If Nova picks up his 10th win tonight, he may be the tourniquet the Yankees need.