Burnett, shown here in spring training, is smiling all the way to the bank
By Sam Bush
Phillies fans may be wondering how the $16 million that the team invested in A. J. Burnett has turned out.
Last night in San Diego, the answer came back loudly and clearly:
It has been a waste of money.
Burnett allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings on his way to his 17th loss of the season in a 5-4 loss to the Padres. Burnett, who leads the majors in losses and walks, is the first Phillies pitcher to lose 17 games in a season since Mark Leiter lost 17 in 1997, when the Phillies were in the midst of seven consecutive losing seasons from 1994-2000.
The Phillies clinched their second consecutive losing season Tuesday with their 82nd loss, despite a franchise-record payroll.
“I expected a lot of things to be different,” Burnett said. “A lot.”
The Phillies signed Burnett to a one-year, $16 million contract in February because they believed they would win if everybody stayed healthy, but with just 11 games remaining the organization only can hope to avoid a last-place finish in the National League East.
“It’s disappointing,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.
Burnett made his 32nd start of the season Tuesday, which increased his 2015 player option to a cool $12.75 million. Burnett, 37, indicated earlier this season he probably would not pitch next year, but he has since backed away from that comment.
So is he still on the fence about next year?
“Am I on the fence about what?” he said.
Continuing his career?
“Yeah, if I can lift my arm up at the end of the season then I might pitch,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Burnett has been pitching with an inguinal hernia since April, although he has said in the past it has not affected him on the mound.
He has thrown a lot of pitches, too. He has thrown 3,268 pitches this season, the most he has thrown since 2009 (3,462). He has thrown 115 or more pitches in a start four times, a mark he had reached just once in the previous two seasons. He has thrown 120 or more pitches in a start twice, a mark he had not reached since 2010.
“I haven’t been me all year,” Burnett said. “A handful of times. We’ll discuss that when we need to. But I pitched the best I could.”
Burnett repeatedly declined to elaborate, only promising to discuss his season upon the season’s conclusion. He makes his final start Sept. 27 against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, the second-to-last game of the year.
“We’ll describe it when the season’s over, OK?” he said. “We’ll describe it when it’s over. … I’m not making any excuses, bro. I messed up tonight. I walked a guy and I … the curveball wasn’t down enough. I ain’t making no excuses. We’ll talk when it’s time to talk.”
Sloppy defense in the first inning allowed the Padres to take a 2-0 lead, but Domonic Brown’s 10th homer of the season in the second cut the lead to 2-1 and Freddy Galvis’ two-run homer in the fifth gave the Phillies a 3-2 lead.
Burnett retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth, then he walked Jake Goebbert. Alexi Amarista followed and hit a two-run home run to right field to give the Padres a one-run lead. Another run eventually scored as Burnett dropped to 8-17 with a 4.40 ERA.
The Phillies offense continued to struggle. It had runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, when Padres left-hander Frank Garces entered the game to face Cody Asche and Chase Utley. Garces retired both hitters, then faced three more left-handers in a perfect eighth inning.
Sandberg had right-handed hitters like Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco on the bench, but chose not to use them.
“I thought about it, but we also had some innings to play,” Sandberg said about letting Garces face five consecutive left-handed hitters late in the game. “The other thing is to get some earlier offense off a right-handed starter. That’s where it can pay off. We haven’t been able to do that the past couple of days.”