|Pitching in an elimination game Tuesday,|
A.J. Burnett got the job done for the Yankees.
An inconsistent, frustrating 30-something .500 pitcher and a young nibbler.
If all you know about baseball comes from the cliches of Dan Gladden and Dick Bremer, that doesn't make sense. It's the young guys who are supposed to be talented but frustratingly inconsistent, and the old pros who fall back on their guile.
But the description is accurate. A.J. Burnett, age 34, has a wonderful arm but pitches seemingly without a clue -- a right-handed version of Francisco Liriano, right down to the ugly high-walk no-hitter.
In his three seasons to date with the Yankees, Burnett has led the league in wild pitches twice, in hit batters once, has averaged four walks per nine innings and has an ERA of 4.79, which is roughly a full run per game higher than he had in his time with Florida and Toronto. Had it not been for the series-opening rain delay, he would not have been entrusted with a start in this series. And he has two more seasons left to run on contract, at more than $16 million a year.
Then there's Rick Porcello, 23, who was far more highly regarded when he was coming out of high school than he is now. Considered a top-three talent in the 2007 draft, he fell to the Tigers late in the first round (one pick before the Twins tabbed Ben Revere) because of his bonus demands. Porcello made the majors in 2008 and has been, basically, the kind of pitcher we've come to associate with the Twins -- a sinker-slider guy with a low walk rate and a low strikeout rate. (Unlike most of the Twins "sinkerballers," Porcello actually does get ground balls.) Detroit signed him anticipating a future ace; he's a reliable change-up, at least, away from that status.
The Yankee lineup loves facing that kind of pitcher. That's been at the heart of the Twins' head-to-head problems with the Yanks -- the Minnesota starters don't miss bats, and the New York hitters can spoil the good pitches and wait for the mistakes.
And so it went Tuesday night. Burnett survived his wildness in the first inning, then found the release point for his curve ball and got the Yanks into the sixth inning with just one run allowed.
Porcello? He got one more out than Burnett did, walked three fewer, struck out two more -- and surrendered three more runs.
It was a one-game object lesson in the value of stuff over command. It's not a lesson I particularly like -- watching Burnett or Liriano in aimless mode is painful for a fan -- but it's real anyway.
Burnett is 34. If Porcello doesn't find a way to miss bats, he won't last as long as Burnett has.