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Assault on this battery

By Nick Cafardo
August 23, 2009

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It is such a smooth running machine that even the slightest malfunction is magnified.

Such was the case yesterday when A.J. Burnett claimed there was no miscommunication with catcher Jorge Posada on pitch selection, while at the same time lamenting he didn’t throw his curveball enough in a 14-1 shellacking by the Red Sox.

Burnett has pitched some clunkers against the Sox this year - all three at Fenway Park, where prior to this season he had been very good. Yesterday, he was hammered for nine runs and nine hits over five innings.

Yesterday’s outing was even worse than the eight runs he allowed over five innings in a 16-11 loss to Boston April 25, or the five runs he allowed over 2 2/3 innings June 9.

Burnett and Posada both denied there were communication issues yesterday, though it sure looked like it.

“I don’t think today was one of those days. We were on the same page,’’ Posada said.

But if Burnett wanted to throw more breaking balls, why didn’t he? Why didn’t he shake off Posada and throw the pitch he felt most comfortable with? That seemed to be the question that brought the most tap dancing.

“No, it’s our job. We throw the ball,’’ said Burnett, when asked if there were any issues between the batterymates. “He’s there to aid. It’s definitely not him. I had a good hook today and I felt I should have used it more. More pitch selection than anything. Like I said, I felt I had a good hook today, and I should have thrown it on more counts.’’

Burnett said Posada was aware he had a good curveball and wanted to throw it more. Posada said he wanted to make sure he set up the breaking pitch, while, obviously, having to call some fastballs in the process. One of the most telling moments came in the fifth inning. Burnett threw a fastball to David Ortiz on the outer half of the plate that Ortiz went with for a home run. Burnett watched the ball go over the Monster and then mouthed, “Why? Why? Why? Why did I throw that?’’

Burnett explained: “There was no reason to even throw that pitch right there.’’

Burnett wanted to throw Ortiz a breaking pitch? It just seemed that an accomplished pitcher like Burnett couldn’t throw the pitch he wanted to throw.

Burnett pointed no fingers at Posada. Asked whether Posada wasn’t calling the curveball, he said, “No he called it. Just a couple of heaters where I felt I should have thrown the hook. He calls fine back there. It’s just a matter of me throwing what I want to throw. You shouldn’t throw it unless you’re 100 percent behind it.’’

One of the reasons the Yankees were happy to sign Burnett to a five-year, $80 million deal was his dominance over the Red Sox. That hasn’t happened.

“It’s not what we expected,’’ manager Joe Girardi said. “But let’s not forget what he did two weeks ago against the Red Sox [7 2/3 innings of one-hit shutout ball Aug. 7]. The bottom line is winning games and he’s been winning games and pitching great for us, and today he didn’t.

“I think the way he’s been pitching, any time he has a bad day you’re a little shocked because he’s been throwing the ball so well for us.

“In games like this you see the human element - the human side of someone. Sometimes they get on such a roll, you think they’re going to do it every time. But there’s a human side to it.’’

And the eight two-out runs he allowed were just abysmal. While Junichi Tazawa, 23, was working his way out of jams, Burnett was pouring gasoline.

With two outs in the first, Burnett allowed a two-run double to Ortiz and an RBI single to Jason Bay. In the second, he surrendered a solo homer to Alex Gonzalez and then allowed a two-out, three-run homer to Kevin Youkilis. Before he could settle in, he was behind 7-0.

“Lot of two-out runs,’’ said Burnett. “I think the only ball I wanted to throw that was hit good was Alex’s. I threw a lot of balls I didn’t want to throw and you saw what the outcome was.’’

Burnett is a stand-up guy. He made no excuses for what he went through. Yet he had no answers either. Nobody felt worse than Burnett, whose record fell to 10-7 while his ERA soared to 4.08. He is part of what many experts consider to be baseball’s best starting rotation.

Yet, every now and then you see a crack in that thinking. Burnett has thrown a few clunkers this year. When he loses it, he really loses it.

“I guess I just wasn’t on top of my game like I should have been,’’ said Burnett with a shrug.

Why the problem at Fenway all of a sudden? “I don’t know. I don’t have an answer,’’ he said. “I’ve played a lot of years here, not just these two games. I know what’s wrong. I know what happened today. It’s frustrating no matter who I play against.’’

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