Erratic A.J. Burnett has pitched Texas tough

NEW YORK -- A.J. Burnett's erratic season might have made him a punchline in the Bronx these days, but the struggling right-hander has fared pretty well against the Texas Rangers.

The veteran Burnett (10-15, 5.26 ERA) will face young Texas Rangers righty Tommy Hunter(13-4, 3.73 ERA; 0-1, 4.50 ERA postseason) in tonight's Game 4 at Yankee Stadium. Rangers manager Ron Washington said he knows enough about Burnett to be concerned, even though he hasn't won since Sept. 1 -- his only win since July 28 -- and was deemed unfit to pitch in the ALDS by Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

"A guy with his type of stuff, you don't know what you're going to get when he's struggling like he's struggling till you put him out there," Washington said. "You could put him out there and his stuff could be nasty. So, it's hard to predict in this game."

In three starts against the Rangers this season, Burnett is 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA. He's gone seven innings twice and has allowed just five runs and 16 hits. He's walked seven and struck out 17. He's whiffed Nelson Cruz five times in eight at-bats, and Josh Hamilton is hitless in five at-bats.

Of course, one of Burnett's seven-inning outings came in the first series in Yankee Stadium way back in April. That was before he hit the skids as his then-2.37 ERA reflects. By the time he saw the Rangers again in August, another seven-inning performance in which he allowed three runs on six hits, his ERA had ballooned to 4.87. David Murphy won that game with a walk-off single.

Burnett pitched just four innings in his most recent start against the Rangers in Arlington on Sept. 11. He went against Hunter that day as both pitchers made early exits (Hunter was gone after five). Burnett allowed two runs on four hits and struck out six. He left that game with a 5.13 ERA.

Not even the Yankees can be sure what Burnett will give them tonight. Washington just knows he's seen enough baseball to know to be concerned.