Burnett's struggles squander early lead

Burnett's struggles squander early lead

LOS ANGELES -- A.J. Burnett might have been applauding when the Yankees put three quick runs into his back pocket, but once he set foot on the mound, the struggling right-hander didn't give anyone in his dugout much to cheer about.

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Burnett gave back Mark Teixeira's homer and more in his fifth consecutive losing effort, chased without retiring a batter in the fourth inning as the Yankees dropped a 9-4 decision to the Dodgers on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Winless since May 30, Burnett is officially searching for answers. He said that the outing marked the best he has felt in a while and went as far as to say he had "unbelievable stuff" -- although it all finished with the same disappointing result.

"I wish there was a way I could get out there tomorrow and throw," Burnett said. "I can't wait to pitch my next start. I'm not going to say, 'Oh, God, I have to go back out in five days.' No, I can't wait to go out in five days."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is in Burnett's corner. As he met with reporters in the first-base dugout immediately after the loss, Girardi said that he is not currently considering skipping Burnett's turn in the rotation.

"I don't think he's necessarily going to benefit from it right now, I don't," Girardi said. "We need A.J., and A.J. has the ability to pitch well. I believe he's going to pitch well."

After Burnett was lifted, Andy Pettitte and Francisco Cervelli were among the teammates to take him aside, encouraging the erratic hurler to keep his head up and continue streaming positive thoughts into his mind.

"What they've meant to me during this stretch has been amazing," Burnett said. "It's all support. They don't give up on me, so I don't either."

"Everybody knows what kind of pitcher he is," Cervelli said. "He's just having a tough time, but I'm with him. If he loses, I lose, too. He's going to be better, I think, next time. He's a great guy and everybody loves him. We're going to support him the best that we can."

Still, this was not the Burnett the Yankees were signing up for when they offered him a five-year, $82.5 million deal before last season. Burnett is 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in five June starts, by far the worst month of his career.

His previous highest ERA was in August 2001, when Burnett was 1-4 with a 7.39 ERA for the Marlins. Perhaps not coincidentally, Burnett's swoon has coincided with the absence of pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was excused indefinitely for personal reasons on June 4.

"You look at everything and you say it could be [related], but A.J. knows what he has to do," Girardi said. "He understands what he has to do. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it happened, but we know that he's going through it, and we've got to work through it."

Taking a three-run lead to the mound after Hiroki Kuroda served up Teixeira's 13th blast of the year, Burnett coughed two of those runs back on Manny Ramirez's ground-rule double and James Loney's sacrifice fly, kicking off a four-RBI afternoon for the Dodgers first baseman.

Burnett navigated the second inning around a walk, but the wheels came off in the third when he was hit hard for three runs. Loney knocked in two with a bases-loaded single and Russell Martin chased the fifth run home with a double-play grounder.

"Strike one is the key," Cervelli said. "We couldn't do that, and we got in trouble. Walks are the biggest enemy."

Girardi had the bullpen cranking, but elected to permit Burnett to drop a bunt with one out and runners at the corners instead of pinch-hitting, putting it on birthday boy Derek Jeter to knock the run in. Kuroda escaped with a strikeout, the first of three whiffs Jeter would log against three Dodgers pitchers.

"It was my present to him," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "He had two tough guys to face, [Hong-Chih] Kuo when it was tough to see, and [Jonathan] Broxton at the end. I have too much respect for him, that was the best I could do."

The decision to let Burnett hit also fizzled because the Yankees weren't able to squeeze another out from him. After a hit and a walk, Loney got to Boone Logan for an RBI single that closed the book on Burnett, who was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA before Eiland left.

"I think it's more frustrating because of the start I had," Burnett said. "That's the way I should be pitching and that's the way I will pitch."

A Casey Blake RBI single off Logan and two tack-on runs against Chan Ho Park in the seventh were window dressing, because the Yankees were largely quieted by Kuroda, who completed 5 1/3 innings of four-run, seven-hit ball.

Four relievers held the Yankees to one hit and two walks over 3 2/3 scoreless innings, as just to make sure there were no miracle comebacks, Torre called on his closer, Broxton, to get the last four outs with a five-run lead.

"That game can get cozy in a hurry with the top of the batting order coming up there," Torre said. "It's something I felt I had to do."

If that was Torre's gut move, then Girardi's is that Burnett must have the ball on Friday back at Yankee Stadium, needing more innings to work out the kinks that have plagued him.

"The command is not [there], the stuff is there," Girardi said. "My feeling is to run him out there on the sixth day. ... My heart tells me we need to get him back out there."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.