Burnett baffles Nats, softens take on retirement

Burnett baffles Nats, softens take on retirement

August 25, 2014, 11:45 pm
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A.J. Burnett struck out 12 in the Phillies' win over the Nationals. (USA Today Images)


It's just one start, but to be able to go out and do that tonight makes you wonder.
— A.J. Burnett


A.J. Burnett sounds a little like that golfer everybody knows, the one who’s ready to give up the game and sell his clubs until one great round pulls him back in.

After getting beaten by the Seattle Mariners last week, Burnett sounded like a man who was ready to walk away from at least $10 million and retire this winter.

“Probably not,” he said when asked whether he intended to continue his career in 2015. “But we’ll see.”

Starts like the one Burnett turned in Monday night are the reason people say things like, “We’ll see.”

Burnett fired seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball in leading the Phillies to a 3-2 win over the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, who had won 12 of 13 coming in (see Instant Replay).

Burnett, who entered the game with a major-league-high 76 walks, issued just one and he struck out a season-high 12.

Games like this keep you from selling your clubs.

“I guess you could say I’ve still got it when I do have it,” Burnett said. “My decision will come down to how I feel and what my family and I decide. It’s just one start, but to be able to go out and do that tonight makes you wonder.”

Burnett had been brutal in his previous seven starts, going 0-6 with a 6.41 ERA in that span.

The right-hander spent time watching video leading up to this start and did not like what he saw with his legs during his delivery. In short, he said he wasn’t staying on top of his legs and that was causing control issues, which were causing losses. He hadn’t won since July 11.

“I wish I’d found that glitch a month ago,” he said. “This is my first win in a long time, the first time I felt like me in a long time.”

Burnett survived another outfield misplay by Domonic Brown and got just enough offensive support in the game. The Phillies used extra-base hits in scoring their three runs. Ryan Howard doubled and scored the Phillies’ first run on a single by Brown in the fourth inning. Cody Asche gave the Phils a 2-0 lead with a solo homer, his ninth, leading off the bottom of the fifth. Carlos Ruiz extended the Phils’ lead to 3-1 with a solo homer in the seventh.

Ruiz’s homer proved important because Jonathan Papelbon gave up a home run to Wilson Ramos in the top of the ninth to make it a one-run game.

The Phillies have won five of seven on this homestand and they send Cole Hamels to the mound on Tuesday night against Washington’s Gio Gonzalez.

Get ready for a long winter of Hamels trade rumors as the Phillies keep their ears open on their ace lefty. When push comes to shove, however, the Phillies will likely opt to keep Hamels and let him lead their pitching staff at least at the start of 2015. Cliff Lee, if healthy, and David Buchanan figure to have places in the rotation in April. After that, the Phils are thin.

“Starting pitching is going to be a priority for us,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said of his offseason plans.

Burnett holds the cards to his future. He has a player option that is worth $10 million. It will climb to $12.75 million with four more starts. It will be difficult to turn down that kind of money. Then again, Burnett has already made over $135 million in his career and he has two young sons at home that he’s eager to spend more time with.

The Phillies also hold an option on Burnett worth $15 million for next season. Amaro said the two sides have to let each other know what they’re doing shortly after the World Series.

Burnett reportedly cleared waivers earlier this month so he can still be traded, but a deal will be difficult to swing because of the money attached to him and the struggles he’s recently endured.

Consistency is the goal of every person in baseball and Burnett -- 7-14 with a 4.30 ERA -- has been far from consistent this season. The Phillies will want to see more starts like Monday night’s before they exercise their end of the 2015 option. Even if Burnett were to make a few more good starts, it’s difficult to envision the Phillies picking up their end of the option. In the end, it’s likely to be Burnett’s call.

“It’s just one start,” the pitcher rightly said. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse. I’ve got to go out and repeat this. I haven’t been able to repeat anything. We’ll see if I can next time.”

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