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Phil Hughes to Follow A.J. Burnout-Burnett in Pitching Rotation

Opening Day is right around the corner, followed by the second and third games of the 2011 season. A.J. Burnett should be zoning in his focus like mad to avoid looking like a dud in between two Yankee studs.

By: Jessica West Regan

New York Yankees pitcher, Phil Hughes, wrapped up the 2010 season strong, going 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA.

A.J. Burnett finished unforgettably weak with a 5.56 ERA after going 10-15.

Over the weekend, Joe Girardi announced from Tampa that A.J. would remain in the number two position in the starting pitching rotation, with Hughes slipping into the number three spot.

That seems smart.

Hughes, who made $447,000 in 2010 as opposed to Burnett’s $16.5 million paycheck, took this information like the quiet gentleman he is.  “One or five, it doesn’t really matter to me,” he was quoted saying from spring training.  “I’m just out there to win ballgames.”

With the ultimate goal for the Yankees being just that—winning games—it seems almost ridiculous that Burnett is pitching ahead of Hughes.

The question is why?

Is it because of Burnett’s hefty contract?  Maybe front office doesn’t want to lose face by bumping him down in the rotation—an action that would almost admit they were wrong to dump so much money and effort into this one player…Randy Johnson anyone?

Or maybe it’s because they truly have faith that with his new pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, A.J. can return to his dominant 2009 ways, where he helped pitch the Bombers straight to a World Championship.

Either way, A.J. must be feeling the pressure more than ever heading into the 2011 season.  With his current 2.77 ERA after four spring training starts, he should be holding his breath that his numbers remain that way when the New York lights hit his pinstripes.

To have to follow 20-plus game winner of 2010, C.C. Sabathia, in the rotation must be an intimidating task.  He better be able to follow through with big games, exercising that mid-90’s fastball to it’s fullest, or the critics—and fans—will not rest easy.

Although he ended the season without the confidence of his own manager—who ultimately removed him from the rotation all together—fans went relatively easy on him in comparison to other players that have had a flop of a year in the Bronx.  Maybe it’s because they had a soft-spot for his tattoo infested 6’5” frame, or maybe it was because thoughts of his successful 2009 season were still flitting around the front of their brains, but whatever the case, if he sinks down into the dumper again this season, you can bet they won’t be so kind.

Phil Hughes ended the year last fall as New York’s new sweetheart.  His tremendous talent seemed to blossom overnight, and the powerhouse energy of the fans jumped right on board the Hughes train.  This 24-year-young righty seems to block out the pressure and noise when he graces the mound, locking in on his opponent while whipping a 95 mph fastball past their dumbfounded faces.  With every strikeout last season grew another bouquet of Hughes fans who are already blowing up the blogs with their disappointment in the recent rotation announcement.

Opening Day is right around the corner, followed by the second and third games of the 2011 season.  A.J. Burnett should be zoning in his focus like mad to avoid looking like a dud in between two Yankee studs.

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