A shaky A.J. Burnett managed to settle down and turn in what ended up being one of his better performances of the season, going six innings, walking two, hitting two, throwing two wild pitches, giving up four hits and only yielding two runs while striking out a season-high 11, as the Yankees beat the Mariners 3-2. By Game Score, this outing tied his June 1 start against Oakland for second-best of the season, and — wait for it — was Burnett’s first quality start since June 29 against the Brewers. Yes Virginia, even A.J. Burnett can beat the Mariners.
The icing on the cake was Mariano Rivera closing it out for his 600th career save, although I unfortunately was asleep for the festivities. Once the Yankees took the lead on Robinson Cano‘s RBI groundout in the 6th I had zero interest in watching A.J. potentially blow the lead in the bottom of the 6th (he didn’t) and decided to get out while the getting was good. Rafael Soriano threw a perfect seventh against his old team and David Robertson pitched around two walks in the 8th to strike out the side. Unsurprisingly, D-Rob’s 13.79 K/9 is the top mark among AL relievers.
The offense was relatively quiet against rookie southpaw Charlie Furbush, and had this been 2010 I’m sure they would’ve found a way to lose, but thankfully that old Yankee bugaboo has gone out the window and they managed to get to Furbush for three runs over 5 1/3. Still, Furbush also settled down after a wild first few innings, and has some compelling stuff — he struck six Yankees out, and could end up developing into yet another strong Seattle starting pitcher. I believe Michael Kay said that this year’s Yankee team was 14-4 when facing a hurler they’d never seen before — rookie or otherwise — and now that mark has improved to 15-4.
The offense came via a Robinson Cano solo blast in the second, and a wild pitch that scored Jesus Montero, who had hit his first Major League double. Montero also had a single and ripped another shot to deep left field but ended up getting run down. I know it’s early, but so far he has been an absolute joy to watch hit. His at-bats have already become must-see-TV for me (not that everything else the Yankees do isn’t, but you get the idea), much the way Alex Rodriguez‘s always have been. Again, small sample size and all that jazz, but since getting the call Montero is hitting .333/.412/.667, .453 wOBA and 189 wRC+. Let that marinate for a moment.
On the flip side, Eduardo Nunez has been an unmitigated disaster since the calendar flipped to September, with an absurd -48 wRC+. Yes, it’s only 26 plate appearances, but that’s beyond terrible. I sparked a bit of a debate on Twitter last night suggesting that it might be time for the Yankees to start giving Eric Chavez some starts against lefties, and while I realize Nunez on the whole has been about as productive as you’d hope for a backup infielder, it looks like he might benefit from a little time off, if at all possible.
The other critical component of this game was A.J.’s curveball, which may have been his best all season. In the early going he kept burying it way outside, forcing poor Russell Martin to seemingly do laps behind the dish to keep up with it, but to A.J.’s credit he seemed to mostly rein the wildness in. Per Brooks, A.J. threw 40(!) curveballs, and got 13(!) swinging strikes on them. The average MLB Whiff Rate on a curve per TexasLeaguers is 11.6%; A.J.’s was 32.5% last night. He also trotted out a sinker, changeup and cutter last night as well, in what may have been one of the more complete A.J. Burnett performances repertoire-wise we’ve seen in a while.
A.J. will almost certainly continue to remain an incredibly frustrating fixture in Yankeeland — it’s absurd that this was his first so-called quality start in over two months, even if he did have a couple of OK outings during that time — but if he can actually recognize what’s wrong and make adjustments on the fly like he appeared to do last night, perhaps all won’t be lost for the duration of A.J.’s remaining two years with the team. Of course, after saying something nice about A.J. now I can only imagine he’ll throw a clunker next time out, but for once I’d rather focus on the positive with Burnett.
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