A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees sits in...

A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees sits in the dugout during the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels. (Aug. 9, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Brian Cashman hadn't spoken publicly since the July 31 trade deadline. When he did so Friday, the Yankees' general manager came out swinging with an impassioned defense of A.J. Burnett.

Cashman said the Yankees are committed to getting down to a five-man rotation next week, and although he said a decision hasn't been made, he left little doubt that the beleaguered Burnett won't be the odd man out.

"We've got six guys that are capable of pitching in a rotation in a pennant race and that's a good thing and someone's going to have to go," he said. "But this stuff about 'A.J. Burnett is worthy of being ripped from the rotation' is a bunch of crap. A.J. Burnett's got a lot of game left."

That likely is bad news for Phil Hughes, Saturday's starter, who could be headed to the bullpen or Triple-A. "Whoever's going to lose a spot in this rotation, they would have a beef as they go wherever they're assigned," Cashman said. "The bullpen, minor leagues, what have you, because they legitimately can pitch every five days up here."

Burnett, who said "it definitely feels good" that the GM has his back, has not won since June 29 and has not won in August in his three years as a Yankee, going 0-8 with a 7.18 ERA. He is 31-33 with a 4.61 ERA overall. "No, he's not pitching like a No. 2 starter," Cashman said. But he added that Burnett (8-9, 4.60), in the third year of a five-year, $82.5-million contract, isn't being treated like other starting pitchers.

"I think he's being treated differently publicly because he has money attached," Cashman said. "So forgive him for saying yes to a contract. If you want to blame somebody for his contract, blame me. But the man can still pitch. The man is a starter. He can still help us significantly . . . Remove the numbers, the perception of him is completely different, and I'm talking about the salary numbers, not the statistical numbers." He later said, "If you smoke the objective pipe, I think the coverage on him will be a little bit more accurate.''

Cashman asked those critical of Burnett to "peel back the onion" on his starts since June 29, saying the performance hasn't been as bad as the perception. But although it's true that he hasn't received great run support, he's gone 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in those seven starts.

"I haven't exactly been getting the job done," Burnett said. "Bottom line is, I'm 8-9. I'll tell you before anybody else that I'm better than that."

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