WASHINGTON -- It’s tempting to call this the low point of the season, but there’s one problem:
We’ve already used that description a few times during this ugly 2014 campaign.
Oh, well, what’s one more time?
In their latest low point of the season, the Phillies suffered an embarrassing, 11-0, loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
For the second time in three games, the Phillies lost their starting pitcher early. Two nights after Cliff Lee walked off the mound pointing grimly toward his left elbow, A.J. Burnett was ejected in the bottom of the second inning for complaining about umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone.
Manager Ryne Sandberg was also ejected in the ensuing argument.
Sandberg faulted both the umpire and Burnett.
“I thought both guys were in the wrong,” Sandberg said. “A.J. can’t get tossed. And I thought the umpire was a little early on the ejection.”
Burnett questioned a couple of Guccione’s calls in the first and second innings. He didn’t like one of the calls that Guccione made leading up to Anthony Rendon’s three-run home run in the second inning. Rendon hit a 3-1 pitch.
Burnett threw one pitch to the next batter, Jayson Werth. It was outside the strike zone. Burnett made a gesture toward Guccione after the pitch. Guccione sprung from behind the plate and ejected the Phillies pitcher. A heated argument ensued.
At one point during the argument, Burnett had to be restrained from going after Guccione. The umpire was also quite fired up.
Eventually Burnett left the field. As he did, he rolled the baseball toward Guccione.
After the game, Burnett said he regretted rolling the ball at the umpire.
“That's uncalled for,” Burnett said. “But everything else. It all just happened.”
Burnett said it was his first career ejection. He is in his 16th big-league season.
“It was a little quick,” Burnett said. “I did ask him twice in the first and second innings if [a pitch] was out or down. Then I threw purposely out of the zone (to Werth) and I said the same thing except as more of a statement than a question, like, ‘That was out,’ and that was it. A pretty quick trigger. It was one of those things where he felt I showed him up in front of 40,000 people.”
According to Guccione, Burnett started complaining in the first inning.
“I felt A.J., and I respect him, he’s a great pitcher, was questioning me on pitches that I didn’t even think were close to the zone,” Guccione said after the game. “That inning goes on and he gave what I felt were a couple of glare-ins. So I kind of felt like, ‘What’s going on here?'
“Now, second inning, same thing. He walks a guy. And one pitch (to Rendon), OK, I’ll give it to him, it was close. I don’t know if it was in the zone or out of the zone, but I had it off the plate. It was close. So Rendon hits the home run. He comes off the mound and starts yelling at me. I said, ‘A.J., that’s enough.’ I gave him the ball and said, ‘OK, hopefully it’s over.’
“Then, the first pitch to Werth, off the plate, and he pointed and he said, ‘Now that’s F-in outside.’ And he yelled at me. With that he was ejected.”
The brouhaha actually added a little excitement to a game that had none -- at least from a Phillies’ standpoint.
Phillippe Aumont relieved Burnett, allowed eight hits and six runs and earned a ticket back to Lehigh Valley after the game. The Phillies will add a pitcher before Sunday’s game.
On the other side, Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann was excellent. He pitched seven shutout innings, walked none and struck out eight.
Phillies hitters struck out 11 times. Just one of the Phillies’ seven hits was for extra bases -- a ninth-inning double by Andres Blanco.
Marlon Byrd had two of the Phillies’ hits, but he was limping noticeably as he walked back to the dugout after striking out in the ninth inning. Byrd’s left foot is bothering him. He took a couple of fouls balls off the foot in recent games.
Burnett is 6-11 with a 4.16 ERA. He has lost two straight starts.
This was actually a noteworthy start for the 37-year-old pitcher. He has an escalating player option on his contract for next season. The base worth of the option was $7.5 million, but it went up to $8.5 million with Saturday night's brief start, Burnett’s 24th of the season, and could rise to $12.75 million if Burnett makes 32 starts.
This option is one of the reasons teams shied away from Burnett on the trade market.
Burnett has not yet decided whether he is going to pitch next season. He could opt for retirement and forgo the option. Or he could be right back with the Phillies in 2015. Burnett has offered no hint as to which way he is leaning.