Baseball / Sports

Burnett strikes out 12 as Phillies edge Nationals

A.J. Burnett's previous seven starts produced a 6.41 ERA and seven Phillies losses. The hottest team in baseball arrived Monday at Citizens Bank Park and could not hit the 37-year-old right-hander as the Phillies defeated the Nationals, 3-2.

Maybe a contending team with pitching needs noticed. (Burnett cleared waivers earlier in the month and can be traded to any team.) In all likelihood, Burnett will make the remainder of his starts in Philadelphia, then face a significant financial decision in early November.

Burnett became the first Phillies pitcher not named Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels or Roy Halladay to strike out 12 batters since Brett Myers did it in 2006. He struck out 10 Washington batters in the game's first five innings.

He pitched around another Domonic Brown fielding mistake in the seventh. Ian Desmond hit a fly ball that nicked Brown's glove and bounced to the wall for a leadoff double. Burnett retired the next three Nationals on three pitches.

With four more starts, Burnett will increase the value of his 2015 player option to $12.75 million. (He can earn a $750,000 bonus this season with two more starts.) The team could not trade him in July because of that lucrative option. One factor in the Phillies' favor is that Burnett must make a decision whether he will play in 2015 soon after this season's World Series. The player option must be exercised within a week of the final game.

Burnett said he would "probably not" pitch next season, but he said similar words last summer before signing in late February with the Phillies. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. does not have an indication of Burnett's desire.

"I haven't discussed it with him or his agent," Amaro said.

Retaining Burnett for another season "was the idea" when the Phillies agreed to the contract. But the veteran righthander has endured a difficult season, and a rebuilding team like the Phillies could look to fill two rotation spots with Burnett's potential salary.

"We have the ability to bring him back," Amaro said. "Obviously there's going to be a challenge for us, with Lee being out -- we're hopeful he'll be ready for opening day next year. We've got obviously Cole and 1/8David3/8 Buchanan. Beyond that, we have a lot of open spots. So pitching is going to be a priority. Starting pitching is going to be a priority for us next year."

It was a priority last winter, too, but Burnett was not a savior.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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