Will Jose Molina catch A.J. Burnett in postseason?

Jose Molina checks on A. J. Burnett while Jose Molina checks on A. J. Burnett while playing against the Tampa Bay Rays. (Sept. 7, 2009) Photo Credit: File / David Pokress

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It would be a potentially incendiary decision - and one Joe Girardi doesn't seem opposed to making.

Jose Molina caught A.J. Burnett Sunday against the Rays, not a surprise in that Jorge Posada rarely caught day games after night games this season.

But the battery very well could be a postseason preview, and Girardi did nothing to dispel the notion that Molina will catch Burnett in Game 2 or 3 of the upcoming Division Series.

(Girardi named CC Sabathia as his Game 1 starter but declined to go beyond that, though Burnett turned in his fourth straight strong start Sunday and might have done enough to regain his No. 2 status.)

"We'll see when we move forward," Girardi said over the weekend in response to the Burnett/Molina question. "It's just something we'll look at."

It is shaping up as one of the more interesting calls Girardi will have to make this week: Who catches Burnett?

After earning the victory Sunday, Burnett finished his first season with the Yankees 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.

Batters hit .221 against Burnett in 11 starts caught by Molina compared with .270 in 16 starts caught by Posada, according to baseball-reference.com. Opponents' slugging percentage was .352 with Molina compared with .421 with Posada. And on and on.

"There's a lot of stuff you're going to take into account next week," Girardi said over the weekend.

To be fair, Burnett experienced his share of success with Posada, most dramatically Aug. 7 at the Stadium in what arguably was the righthander's best outing this season. He held the Red Sox to one hit in 72/3 innings.

But the two had their share of rough moments, most memorably Aug. 22 in Boston, when Burnett and Posada clearly were at odds in the Yankees' 14-1 loss, a game in which Burnett allowed a season-worst nine runs and three homers in five innings.

"I tried to get on the same page as him,'' Posada said.

Said Burnett that day: "It's just a matter of me throwing what I want to throw."

Burnett ultimately blamed himself and there didn't appear to be any lingering hard feelings. But the reality is this: Sunday was the sixth straight start in which Molina caught Burnett.

Burnett concluded the season with four consecutive strong starts. He had a 1.88 ERA in that span, striking out 28 in 24 innings. The Yankees would have won all four if not for Ichiro Suzuki's walk-off homer off Mariano Rivera Sept. 18.

The biggest area of improvement Molina has seen from Burnett of late? "To me, his rhythm on the mound," he said. "He's getting the ball and pitching. He's not thinking too much. He's just getting the ball and throwing the ball."

Going back to 2000, John Flaherty, Randy Johnson's personal catcher in 2005, is the only other Yankees catcher besides Posada to start a postseason game. So the decision wouldn't be without its land mines, including the weakening of the lineup.

Molina hit just .217 this season with a .292 on-base percentage and .268 slugging percentage to Posada's .285-. 363-. 522. It probably also would mean that Hideki Matsui (28 homers, 90 RBIs) would sit as Posada would be the designated hitter.

Still, Girardi could determine that making Burnett - who has never appeared in a postseason game - as comfortable as possible takes precedence over possibly irritating Posada or sitting Matsui.

Speaking generally after Sunday's game, Burnett said his resurgence late in the season came down to "positive thoughts."

"You want to go in without any negative thoughts, especially for your first one," Burnett said. "But I have a lot of confidence right now."

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