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A Brief Word on A.J. From an Injured Pal

My apologies for maintaining radio silence this week, fellow seekers of wisdom and truth. On Sunday night, I did something nasty--unintentionally, I assure you--to my back, with the result that sitting up to type for more than a few minutes at a time becomes interestingly painful. The situation seems to have improved enough that I can take a moment to write this dispatch... Either that or I will spend the rest of the day regretting that I tried. We shall see.

A.J. Burnett's Wednesday start was prefaced by the statement that he had been strong in his last outing, having allowed four runs in eight innings. This was an exaggeration. He was true in that he made it through eight innings, and it is also true that a 4.50 ERA would be kind-of okay for a starter in most other seasons of our very strange century, but it is not true now. The average 2011 starter, which includes CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and Tim Wakefield and every single hurler to take the mound for the Orioles this year, has an ERA of 3.98. If you prefer raw runs allowed (I do) then the figure is 4.36. Yes, he walked two and struck out 10 last time out. He also allowed two home runs. Despite the billing as an unalloyed success, it wasn't.

Last night, Burnett was thrashed, couldn't get the win in a game in which he had been spotted a 76-1 lead. After the game, Joe Girardi said, "He’s starting on Wednesday... His numbers aren’t that bad. If you look at the numbers of Hughes, I mean, Hughesy made one good start. We look at the whole year, and A.J.’s been decent for us."

Joe: you're measuring by the wrong yardstick, the yardstick of hyper-inflated super-offense. We aren't there this year. The AL is scoring 4.3 runs per game. The last time you could say that was 1992. Burnett hasn't been the outright disaster that he was last year, but "decent" might be generous. His ERA has risen every month of the season. He has a career-high home-run rate going... And he's signed through 2013, so no one wants to admit that the higher upside is to be found elsewhere.

Mike Mussina was dropped from the rotation when he struggled in 2007. Ron Guidry was sent to the bullpen a couple of times towards the end of his career. It doesn't have to be that Phil Hughes ends up in the bullpen, assuming he continues to pitch well (big assumption, I know) or Ivan Nova heads to Triple-A. There are other options, no matter how seemingly disruptive. The point is to win, not to spend four years avoiding the consequences of an ill-considered contract.