BALTIMORE -- The Yankees have spent the better part of three years lauding A.J. Burnett's electric stuff, patiently waiting for the day when the right-hander will harness it all consistently.
There have been good days and bad ones, but what the Yankees saw Friday was one of the worst in Burnett's pinstriped tenure, as he was hammered for nine runs in New York's 12-5 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards.
"If guys are comfortable off you, they're going to take their swings off you," Burnett said. "And guys are comfortable off me. I can see it."
The numbers tell the entire story with Burnett, who seems to have imploded just as the Yankees are gearing up for the postseason push. His August has been awful, as he is 1-2 with an unsightly 11.91 ERA.
"That kind of speaks for itself," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's been a struggle for him. We've got to continue to try to work on it and get him right."
Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have been firmly in Burnett's corner even as public opinion has soured, standing by a pitcher who was expected to help head the rotation but now appears more suited for the bullpen.
The Yankees can't give up on Burnett -- for one thing, he's due $16.5 million per season through 2013, though Cashman has said that financial considerations won't get in the way of putting the best team on the field.
Girardi didn't exactly offer Burnett a vote of confidence after this latest outing, but shrugged and said he'd keep giving Burnett the ball because the Yankees' schedule is about to be taxed even more heavily by Mother Nature.
"With all these doubleheaders, we've got to play games," Girardi said. "We need six men [in the rotation]."
One start after Burnett barked three words after being lifted in the second inning against the Twins at Target Field, he was left in for 116 pitches, soaking up a barrage from the Baltimore bats to help save the bullpen.
"I think he'd tell you he wasn't at his best today," said J.J. Hardy, who homered and had three RBIs. "Even not at his best, we've got to put together some pretty good at-bats. He's got some really good stuff."
Six of the nine runs came in Burnett's 38-pitch second inning, as Mark Reynolds homered before Burnett served up five consecutive doubles, including run-scoring two-baggers by Nolan Reimold, Matt Angle and Robert Andino before Hardy added a two-run blast.
"I have some good innings and then I have a bad inning," Burnett said.
Burnett said he "got a little mad" after the second inning and became more aggressive throwing inside, so his results seemed to improve. Hardy notched a RBI groundout in the fourth, and Reimold had a two-run triple in the fifth.
"I pitched in after that second inning, and I saw some differences; guys taking pitches and the hook was better," Burnett said. "You definitely learn from that, pay attention to that, and use it as a weapon."
Burnett permitted nine hits, walking two and striking out five while throwing three wild pitches. He heard loud boos from a largely pro-New York contingent that braved ugly forecasts to head for Baltimore.
"It's really just location at this point," catcher Russell Martin said. "He'll make a couple of good pitches with his fastball, and the next one will be belt-high. Guys at this level, they don't miss it."
Hurricane Irene's expected arrival created a subplot to the action, as the Yankees were miffed that the Orioles refused to play a day-night doubleheader on Friday instead of trying to play it Saturday.
The Orioles eventually cancelled Saturday's games, announcing they will try to play a day-night twinbill on Sunday, a single game on Monday, and have the Yankees come back to Baltimore on Sept. 8.
"We didn't agree to play Sept. 8th," Girardi said. "They scheduled it, we didn't agree with it, and I really don't understand it. We're going to fight it. It just doesn't make sense."
That story will have legs, but the rest of the action on the field was largely a formality.
Matt Wieters continued the damage with a three-run homer off Luis Ayala in the sixth, but all three runs were unearned as Robinson Cano committed a two-out error that prolonged the inning.
Baltimore starter Tommy Hunter was touched only by homers in his seven innings, as Jorge Posada hit a solo shot in the fifth, Alex Rodriguez went deep in the seventh, and Nick Swisher added a two-run blast in the same inning.
Rodriguez's homer was his first since returning from the disabled list from surgery to repair a torn right meniscus, having last homered on June 11.
Swisher's homer landed on Eutaw Street beyond right field, the 57th such ball to travel that far, and Mark Teixeira lifted an eighth-inning sacrifice fly to round out the scoring.
As the Yankees exited Camden Yards, a staffer wiped clean a dry-erase board with Saturday's schedule. They'll have an off-day in the Inner Harbor to batten down the hatches, trying to savor their rest. It may be about to become much more valuable.
"My mind is completely turned off right now," Swisher said. "We've got a long road to home, man, and everyone in here is ready for it."