Yankees Turn to Struggling Burnett to Avoid 3-1 ALCS Deficit

The New York Yankees’ chances of avoiding a 3-1 hole in the American League Championship Series will hinge in large part on A.J. Burnett, who hasn’t pitched in 17 days and has one victory since the start of August.

Burnett starts Game 4 today at Yankee Stadium, where New York lost 8-0 last night to trail the Texas Rangers 2-1 in the best-of-seven Major League Baseball series.

It was the fourth time in franchise history the Yankees lost consecutive games in an ALCS, and a defeat today would leave them on the brink of elimination. Instead of pitching ace CC Sabathia on short rest, the Yankees will start Burnett, whose 15 losses this season were a career high.

“I’ve had a rough one,” Burnett said before the Yankees’ Game 3 loss. “But I feel great. I feel like I’m where I need to be. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the mound, but I’m sharp.”

Burnett, 32, said he’ll draw on his postseason performances of last year, when he was one of the three starters used by the Yankees during their run to a record 27th World Series championship.

“My seasons have been similar,” said Burnett, who is in the second season of a five-year, $82.5 million contract. “The only difference is that I have three or four good games toward the end of last year.”

Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 earned run average this season after going 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 2009. He made five postseason starts a year ago and his lone win was a pivotal one, coming in Game 2 of the World Series after the Yankees lost the opener to the Philadelphia Phillies.

‘Believe in Him’

“We all know what A.J. can dial up and we believe in him,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said yesterday before Game 3.

With seven games scheduled in nine days, Girardi said before the ALCS that he’d use four starting pitchers. He didn’t deviate from that plan after Game 3, when Cliff Lee held the Yankees to two hits in eight scoreless innings.

Burnett said he’s excited about the chance to erase memories of his performances since the beginning of August, a span in which he went 1-7 with a 6.61 ERA in 12 starts. He was dropped from the rotation for the three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the playoffs.

“From the work I’ve been doing, I’m in a pretty good groove,” Burnett said. “I haven’t pitched in a long time, so I haven’t struggled in a long time. I don’t worry about what’s happened.”

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