Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Monday that the team believes the best course of action is to utilize a fourth starter in the best-of-seven series, rather than push its best starters on short rest, as it did last season.
So Burnett, who finished the year 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA, will get an opportunity to showcase his stuff against either the Rangers or Rays, depending on the outcome of Tuesday's Game 5 of the AL Division Series. He did not appear in New York's ALDS sweep of the Twins.
"He was prepared to do whatever we needed him to do," Cashman said of Burnett. "He was happy that we secured a postseason berth, and he knows that he struggled. His contributions toward that effort were more in the first half than the second half, so he wants to do anything he possibly can to help us."
The Yankees needed only three starters to get through the postseason gauntlet last year, using staff ace CC Sabathia to pitch Games 1 and 4 of the ALCS against the Angels.
That tactic would've allowed Sabathia to pitch again in Game 7, a consideration that became moot when the Yanks clinched in six games. Sabathia was also on pace to start three games in last year's World Series, which was decided in six contests.
This year, the Yankees elected to stick with what worked in the regular season. Sabathia was in line to start Game 4 of the ALDS on short rest, but New York swept Minnesota. Now, Sabathia figures to be on target to pitch Games 1 and 5 of the ALCS, a workload that could have him in line to start early again in the World Series.
New York also has Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes rested and ready to start in the ALCS.
"I don't think it will be a secret, that's probably the best route for us to go, a four-man rotation," Cashman said. "I think you prepare to go with a four-man and see where that takes us. [We have to] prove that we're not just built for a Division Series with off-days that are beneficial to us. I think in this round and the next round, we're going to have to prove that we're deeper than that."
That means the Yankees must believe that Burnett -- whose 5.26 ERA was the highest in team history for a pitcher with at least 180 innings -- can return to form.
"I broke every record in the wrong direction for the Yankees this year," Burnett said this month. "It isn't like we've got Cy Young on the mound. Then again, I can go out there and throw a no-hitter at any time, so I've got that in the back of my head, too. My confidence is not lost, but I know there's questions. I'm not oblivious to that."
Burnett, who provided mixed results in last year's postseason, suffered through two of the worst months of his career this season.
The right-hander pitched to an 0-5 record with an 11.35 ERA in June, then reprised his struggles with an 0-4 record and a 7.80 mark in August. Burnett was 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA in September and October, but New York is trusting him to right himself.
"He was a big part of why we were successful last year, and he can be a big part of why we're successful this year, too," Cashman said. "I do have confidence in him. I understand that he struggled, but that was before October.
"October can bring out a competitive side in people, and I know A.J.'s got a lot of competition in him. I know he'd like to eradicate everything that's occurred here in the second half. A terrific start would go a long way toward doing that."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.