It took a young child to grill the Yankees' general manager.
As Yankees GM Brian Cashman answered questions from the audience as part of "A Conversation with Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein" at Sacred Heart University on Tuesday night, a young fan asked Cashman about the Yankees' most underwhelming pitcher.
"Brian, do you feel comfortable with A.J. Burnett this year?" asked the fan, eliciting laughter and then applause from the capacity crowed.
Like he has done in the past, though, Cashman said he is going to stand behind his pitcher who has had a rough last two years in the Bronx.
"I am comfortable with A.J.," Cashman said. "He's extremely talented and has been inconsistent, but I can tell you I'm comfortable with the effort he's giving, I'm comfortable with everything that he does, the accountability that comes with him. Obviously, we signed him to have more success than he's having, but it's a competitive industry and as long as he's not going to give up on himself, then I'm going to have his back the entire way."
Burnett is entering the fourth year of his five-year deal he signed prior to the 2009 season. After a 13-9 start to his time in New York that included a pivotal win the World Series, he has gone 21-26 over the last two seasons with an ERA above 5.00.
Cashman has always supported Burnett throughout his struggles, famously telling people to smoke the objective pipe when assessing Burnett as he endured midseasons troubles last year. The GM urged others to look at other factors like run support when analyzing the right-handed pitcher's performance.
This season, Burnett's struggles could end up being a moot point. The Yankees enter spring training with seven starting pitchers and the veteran's spot could be in jeopardy after the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda. It's widely assumed that Pineda, Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova will definitely be in the rotation, leaving one spot for Burnett, Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia.
"This year we have a whole bunch of starting pitchers, knock on wood, and so we'll see how it all shakes out, who plays in what role and where" Cashman said. "But if we have the ball in his hands I believe that he'll do well for us. He won one of our playoff games against Detroit and we only won two, we were trying to win three. He stepped up big in Game 4 and pushed us back to New York to give us Game 5. It's in there and the ability is there and he does care, so I'm going to stay with him."