Yankees Ask A.J. Burnett With 7.57 ERA to Keep Team’s Playoff Hopes Alive

The New York Yankees’ chances of keeping their season alive may hinge on the right arm of pitcher A.J. Burnett.

Burnett will start tonight’s Game 4 at Comerica Park in Detroit after the Yankees lost consecutive games against the Tigers to fall behind 2-1 in the best-of-five American League Division Series.

Burnett, who is a combined 21-26 with a 5.20 earned run average over the past two seasons, is only getting a start because rain suspended Game 1 of the series. He’d been set to pitch in relief during the playoffs after compiling a 7.57 ERA over his final seven starts of the regular season.

“Obviously, I give them reasons here and there to doubt,” the 34-year-old Burnett told reporters before last night’s 5-4 loss to the Tigers. “I’m not going to go out and try to prove anything. I’m going to go out and try to win a ballgame.”

If the Yankees lose, their season is over and the Tigers advance to the AL Championship Series. A Yankees win would force a decisive Game 5 in New York in two days. The game starts at 8:30 tonight.

“He knows what’s at stake,” said fellow Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, who allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings last night. “I’m looking for him to come out and pick us up.”

Burnett joined the Yankees before the 2009 season, signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract. His $16.5 million annual salary is higher than every player’s on the Tigers except first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who makes $20 million and batted .344 and hit 30 home runs this season.

Starts Against Tigers

Burnett went 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Tigers this year, allowing eight runs -- five earned -- over 12 innings. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he’s confident in Burnett, who led Major League Baseball with 25 wild pitches this season and was fifth in walks allowed.

“I feel good about what A.J. is going to do for us,” Girardi said after last night’s loss.

The Tigers will counter with 22-year-old Rick Porcello, a native of Morristown, New Jersey, who went 14-9 with a 4.75 ERA for the AL Central Division champions this season. While Porcello won his lone start against the Yankees this season on May 5, he’ll be making his postseason debut tonight.

Burnett has a 1-2 record with a 5.67 ERA in six career playoff starts with New York. He allowed one run over seven innings in the Yankees’ win over Philadelphia in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, and then followed it up by surrendering six runs in two innings in a Game 5 loss.

“I had good games and bad games during the season,” Burnett said. “You can say the same thing about the postseason, but you can’t count me out. I’m going to bring everything I’ve got and just let A.J. loose out there.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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