With Pettitte retiring, the Yankees’ rotation success rides on Burnett

Now that Andy Pettitte has decided to retire, the general consensuses is that the Yankees’ are screwed when it comes to their starting rotation. But that’s probably an overreaction.

erunner Nelson Cruz circles the bases behind him in the top of the sixth inning of game four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York, USA, 19 October 2010. The winner of the best-of-seven series will go on to face either Philadelphia Phillies or the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. EPA/JUSTIN LANE fotoglif765596

Assuming he doesn’t get injured or suffer a case of bad luck, CC Sabathia is still the best pitcher in the American League. If he can stay healthy, Phil Hughes is a solid No. 3 on a championship team and even has the talent to be a good No. 2. Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre are the unknowns, but the Yankees don’t need any of those guys to be Cliff Lee or even Pettitte. They could do much worse for their No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

But with Pettitte retiring, the Bombers do need the 2009 version of A.J. Burnett to return and not the puss that took the mound in 2010. It’s not like the guy can’t pitch; he helped the Yankees win the World Series in ’09 by finishing with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. But those numbers rose in 2010 when he went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP.

The key with Burnett has always been his mindset. If he’s healthy and his head is in the right place, then the Yankees’ rotation will be fine with Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes rounding out the top 3 spots. But if Burnett’s confidence starts to go, then so does his stuff and the wheels can come off rather quickly.

Pitching in New York and the small dimensions at Yankee Stadium don’t help his cause either. Pitchers can’t get away with mistakes at Yankee Stadium like they can at Petco Park or AT&T. Leave one up to a lefty in the Bronx and the ball is likely to wind up in some fan’s office the next morning.

But the early reports on Burnett have been good. He’s working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who says Burnett has a new approach that should yield better results. He also thinks that Burnett’s “mind and heart are in the right place,” and that he wants to do well.

For the Yankees’ sake, hopefully Rothschild is right. Losing Pettitte to retirement could be a minor blip or a catastrophe depending on Burnett.

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