Burnett pushed to Tuesday with back spasms; A-Rod may return

Update (5:13 p.m.): The Yankees have regained their third baseman while losing their starting pitcher. A.J. Burnett will not make his long awaited start against Josh Beckett tonight as he has been scratched with back spasms. Dustin Moseley with start in his stead tonight, and Phil Hughes will go tomorrow. Burnett, who felt the spasms yesterday, is scheduled to pitch Tuesday against the Rangers as long as his back holds up.

In other injury news, Alex Rodriguez is currently penciled into the lineup tonight as the clean-up hitter and third baseman. A-Rod missed yesterday’s game after taking a line drive to the shin during batting practice. He walked off the field under his own power but with a slight limp, and his x-rays were negative. While A-Rod is right now set to play, Girardi told reporters that the final lineup will be a game-time decision. “I can’t tell you that will be our lineup at 8 o clock,” he said.

Lining up Beckett and Burnett

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Tonight marks A.J. Burnett‘s 15th career start against the Red Sox and his seventh as a Yankee. Part of the reason the Yankees signed Burnett to a five-year, $82 million contract after the 2008 season was his track record against the AL East, particularly against Boston. He pitched 56.1 innings in eight starts against Boston as a Blue Jay, striking out 53 and allowing just 16 earned runs. With the Yankees he has pitched 29.2 innings, allowing 31 runs. He’s really had just one good start against them, which was the 7.2 innings of shutout ball he pitched in the infamous 15-inning affair last season. Tonight he gets a shot to add another quality one, as he’ll face Josh Beckett.

Of Burnett’s 14 starts against the Red Sox, four have come against his former Marlins teammate Josh Beckett. The first time they met Burnett was in a Blue Jays jersey, and it was both pitchers’ first month in their first seasons with a new team. Beckett, homer-happy as he was that season, allowed three Blue Jays to take him deep, resulting in five earned runs in 7.1 innings. Yet he left the game with the lead, to be blown by Mike Timlin and eventually surrendered completely by Keith Foulke. Burnett lasted just four innings on his end, allowing three runs and striking out five.

The two did not meet at all during the rest of Burnett’s three-year stint in Toronto. They both took the mound in April, 2009, facing off for the first time as Yankee and Red Sock. If you’ll bear the pain necessary to recall the memory, both starters pitched horribly. Burnett looked like he was cruising until he ill-advisedly threw Jason Varitek a first-pitch fastball, which Varitek deposited in right field for a grand slam. All told Burnett lasted five innings, allowing eight runs. Beckett, too, lasted just five innings, matching Burnett’s eight runs. The Sox won the battle of the bullpens.

Their next meeting, that June, was a much more lopsided affair. Beckett tossed six shutout innings, striking out eight Yankees. Burnett completely melted down, allowing five runs, three earned, in 2.2 innings. It took him 84 pitches to record those eight outs, thanks mostly to his five walks. That was part of a particularly frustrating stretch of schedule. After a slow start the Yanks had actually taken first place, but that loss evened their record with the Sox. This was, as you’ll again painfully remember, part of the 0-8 stretch the Yanks had against the Sox.

A little more than two months later they met again, and Beckett again brought his best. The Yanks managed just four hits and two walks through seven innings, striking out seven times. Burnett, though, was a bit better, allowing just one hit, a leadoff infield single to Jacoby Ellsbury, through 7.2 innings. He walked six, but a few of them seemed to be strategic. Both pitchers handed it over to the bullpen, and in the 15th Alex Rodriguez ended it with a two-run home run off of Junichi Tazawa.

Burnett has faced the Red Sox twice this year, both times pitching pretty poorly. He lasted just five innings in the second game of the year, allowing four runs, three earned. A month later he again started in Boston, this time allowing nine runs, eight earned, in 4.1 innings. I wish I could say that was his worst start of the year, but that’s just not the case. In both of those outings he faced off against Jon Lester. Tonight it’s a return match with Beckett.

It seems like it always comes down to these two, Burnett and Beckett, even though this is just the fourth time they’ve faced each other as Yankee and Red Sock. Surely there has to be a happy medium between the August and April starts from last year. No one wants to see both starters surrender eight runs, and no one wants to sit through a 15-inning affair, especially an ESPN one that includes extended commercial breaks and an hour-late 8 p.m. start. But knowing Burnett in general and Beckett against the Yanks, we have no clue what to expect.

Afternoon links: Brackman, Ortiz, Prospects

Just a couple of links to get you jump-started this Sunday afternoon.

  • Frank Piliere has a full scouting report on Andrew Brackman. The velocity seems to be there, and Piliere thinks that it’s the command of his curveball that will make the difference for Brackman.
  • David Ortiz complains about the strike zone. Players who twice strike out looking tend to do that.
  • Joel Sherman muses on three youngsters who could help out next season: Eduardo Nunez, Brandon Laird, and Jesus Montero. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nunez up in September. If they can muster a 40-man spot you might be able to say the same for Laird, who will have to hit the 40-man after the season anyway.
  • And finally, a little bit on Pedro Martinez, who won’t pitch this year. He thinks he has “a legit chance” at the Hall of Fame, which completely undersells his case. He’s a first balloter, no questions asked.

The Plan for Pettitte

As Andy Pettitte nears a return from a groin strain, the Yankees mapped out his rehab plan. The lefty will throw a full bullpen session tomorrow, and if he comes out of that feeling well, he’ll throw to live batters in a simulated game on either Thursday or Friday. The next step after that is a rehab start on either Monday or Tuesday, likely High-A Tampa or Double-A Trenton because Triple-A Scranton will be on the road on that point. Pettitte is hopeful he will only need one rehab start, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team held him back for a second one if they have a decent enough lead in the division.

Yanks down Sox to widen AL East lead

Celebrating a win. Credit: AP Photo, Frank Franklin II

Despite two second-inning runs from the Red Sox, CC Sabathia and the Yankees cruised to an easy 5-2 win over Boston on Saturday evening. Filling in for the injured Alex Rodriguez, Ramiro Peña drove in two runs, and Curtis Granderson went 2 for 4 with a pair of runs scored. Sabathia pitched eight strong innings, and Mariano Rivera got the save. As the Rays lost to the Blue Jays 17-11, the Yanks’ AL East lead now stands at 1.5 games.

Things I Liked

Curtis Granderson was on base twice and scored twice. The biggest knock against Granderson this season is his .312 OBP. With a triple, he showed yesterday that he can hit for gap power, and with the stolen base, he showed that, if he can get on base, he can make something happen. He hasn’t done enough of either this year but has shown signs of snapping out of it.

As much as I criticize Ramiro Peña for waving a wet noodle at the plate, he got the job done twice on Saturday. He knocked in a run on a ground ball after Brett Gardner struck out with a runner on third and later singled with the infield in to extend the Yanks’ lead. He might be hitting .208 but has a respectable 13 RBI in 96 ABs.

CC Sabathia hadn’t given up a home run since June 3 when Victor Martinez took him deep to lead off the second inning. After back-to-back doubles made it 2-0 Boston, the big man seemed to be in trouble. He bore down though and stymied the Sox for seven more innings. He’s now 14-5 on the season and is every bit the stopper the Yankees had hoped he would be. This victory was the 150th of his career.

Things I Did Not Like

Brett Gardner is 1 for his last 22 with 10 strike outs. He’s gotten on base just three times in his last 24 plate appearances. Perhaps a day off would be in order.

Lance Berkman should take his frustration out on the baseball, not the Yanks’ All Star third baseman’s calf. X-Rays were negative, but A-Rod isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play on Sunday.

Box Score

Take a gander at the ESPN box. Get your info from Fangraphs.

Up Next

A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett face off in a rematch of last year’s 15-inning classic at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Montero homers in bullet-point DotF

Fangraphs/River Ave. Blues event + Yankees/Red Sox + beer = late and bullet-point DotF. Let’s hit up the highlights.

  • While the Yankees downed the Red Sox last night, Scranton beat the PawSox 6-1. Jesus Montero went 1 for 3 with a solo home run, a walk and a strike out. Juan Miranda chipped in a three-run shot. David Phelps went 6.2 innings for the win, and he gave up no runs on 5 hits and struck out 6.
  • Jenrry Mejia and the Binghamton Mets downed Trenton 5-1. Adam Warren struck out 8 in 5 innings but also gave up 5 runs — 4 earned — on 6 hits and a walk. No one did much of anything of note offensively.
  • Tampa beat St. Lucie 6-4 as Dellin Betances improved to 7-1. He didn’t have his best command last night, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings of work, but he struck out 5 as well.
  • Charleston played a pair yesterday against Savannah. They won the first game 7-0 as Sean Black through a seven-inning complete-game four-hitter. Slade Heathcott went 1 for 3 with a walk and a strike out. J.R. Murphy knocked in three with a triple. Savannah won the second game 4-1, and Heathcott went 0 for 2 with a pair of strike outs.
  • Staten Island lost to Williamsport 11-9.
  • The GCL Yanks dropped a 4-3 contest to the GCL Pirates. Cito Culver and Gary Sanchez went a combined 0-for-8 with 3 strike outs. The team made only three errors yesterday.