'Frustrated' Burnett burned early in desert
Yanks righty allows five runs in first in his fourth straight loss
PHOENIX -- The most disappointing aspect of A.J. Burnett's recent struggles goes beyond the ugly lines littered next to his name in the box scores. It might be that the Yankees right-hander doesn't even recognize the pitcher who appears on the mound every fifth day.
Searching for answers to the mechanical problems that have left him in this out-of-body experience, Burnett was battered for seven runs and suffered his fourth consecutive defeat as the Yankees dropped a 10-4 decision to the D-backs on Monday at Chase Field.
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"I don't feel like myself," Burnett said. "I'm not having fun right now. Who would in a stretch like this? The game is supposed to be fun, and when you come out and take the air out of your team, it's quite frustrating."
The mercurial hurler earned a five-year, $82.5 million contract with a career year for the Blue Jays in 2008, but after Monday's game, Burnett mentioned that he doesn't feel like he has lived up to the deal "at all" -- even after winning 13 games, plus a World Series contest, last season.
That point might be up for debate, but what should be certain is that Burnett cannot be successful pitching the way he is now. The fanfare of the Yankees' first visit to Arizona in six years got off to a deflating start as the D-backs belted three homers in the first inning, batting around for five runs.
Justin Upton started the carnage with a two-out solo homer, his first of two on the night. Adam LaRoche belted a three-run shot and Mark Reynolds followed with a blast as the D-backs went back-to-back against Burnett, who has allowed nine round-trippers in his past 20 innings.
"I'm frustrated and disappointed," Burnett said. "I know how good I am and how I should be throwing the ball. The past handful of starts, I haven't been giving my team a chance out of the gate."
Catcher Jorge Posada was the one flashing signals for pitches that never reached his glove, so he should have had the best perspective.
"It's location, to tell you the truth," Posada said. "You watch the video and [from] what I think I saw, the pitches are missed location."
But why so often? The question was raised after the game how much the absence of pitching coach Dave Eiland -- who was excused indefinitely on June 4 for personal reasons -- is affecting a pitcher like Burnett, who has an ERA of 10.35 in his past four starts and is obviously searching for guidance.
"Consistency is the specific problem," said bullpen coach Mike Harkey, who is serving as the interim pitching coach. "It's consistency in repeating pitches. That's what he's struggling with. It's something in his years in the big leagues he's struggled with before. Eventually he comes out through the other side. I know it's amplified because he's had such tough outings the last four outings, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm sure he does too."
A former big league pitcher, Harkey served as manager Joe Girardi's pitching coach with the Marlins in 2006 and will continue filling in until Eiland's return. But his duties are admittedly spread thin, needing to keep up with a 12-man pitching staff. Class A Staten Island manager Josh Paul, a former big league catcher, has been summoned to lend a hand.
"It comes down to location, no matter who you are or what you've got," Girardi said. "[Burnett] is a guy who's had success and knows how to have success. That's why I believe he'll turn it around."
The Yankees have not provided an update of when Eiland can be expected back, and Burnett did not want to use his absence as an excuse. In the meantime, he is staying in the rotation, steeling his mantra with positive thoughts and envisioning what it feels like to be successful.
"I'm out there throwing pitches, whether Dave is in the dugout or not," Burnett said. "He's corrected me enough where I should have it in memory. I'm a man and a professional athlete who has a big contract and is here for a reason. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to do that on my own."
While Burnett tried to control his tempo and figure out why he feels uncomfortable out of the windup, Miguel Montero made it a six-run lead with an RBI double in the second inning, and got Burnett again in the fourth with a two-out RBI single.
Burnett allowed nine hits, walking two and striking out four before leaving for a pinch-hitter -- Colin Curtis, making his big league debut -- in the fifth inning. His problems are no secret around the big league circuit, not anymore.
"He struggled in his last outing, so we talked about getting to him early and trying to put pressure on him, and we did," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. "That was important to give us a lead, let us play from ahead."
Dealt the early blow, the Yankees eventually chipped away at familiar foe Rodrigo Lopez, but managed only three runs and eight hits in eight innings.
"I faced a lot of them from my years with the Orioles," Lopez said. "Derek Jeter is the guy I have faced the most. He owns me, but today I don't know what happened."
Nick Swisher brought in New York's first run in the third inning, smashing a triple off the high wall in center field above the 407-foot marker, sending Brett Gardner home following his first at-bat of a four-hit night.
In the sixth, Alex Rodriguez ripped a run-scoring double and Jorge Posada connected for a sacrifice fly to bring the Yankees within four runs, but that was the closest they'd get. Chan Ho Park surrendered a three-run homer to Upton in the eighth, rendering Swisher's ninth-inning sacrifice fly as a footnote.
"We just didn't get the results we were looking for tonight," Rodriguez said of Lopez. "I don't recall a game where we missed so many balls or hit them straight up in the air, warning track balls or whatnot. Today he was better than us."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.