Things quickly soured for A.J. Burnett after the All-Star break, leaving the 16-year veteran with a chance to become the first Philadelphia Phillies pitcher to lose 18 games in 41 years as he takes the mound for the final time in 2014 -- and possibly his career -- Saturday night against the Atlanta Braves.
Burnett signed a one-year, $16 million contract with the Phillies (73-87) in February and got off to a solid start with a 2.06 ERA through his first seven turns in the rotation despite pitching with an inguinal hernia. He was 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA at the break, but the second half hasn't been kind to him.The right-hander is 2-9 with a 5.85 ERA in his last 13 starts, dropping him to 8-17 with a 4.57 ERA overall. Burnett lost more than 12 games once before this year when he had 15 with the Yankees in 2010.He's tied with San Diego's Eric Stults, who also pitches Saturday, and the Dodgers' Kevin Correia for the most losses in baseball. A defeat against Atlanta (77-83) would make him Philadelphia's first 18-game loser since Steve Carlton went 13-20 in 1973.Burnett has hinted that this could be his last season, but he told MLB's official website that he won't discuss it while there are still games to be played."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. ... I haven't been me all year. A handful of times. We'll discuss that when we need to. But I pitched the best I could."We'll describe it when the season's over, OK? We'll describe it when it's over. ... I ain't making no excuses. We'll talk when it's time to talk."Although the Braves have been terrible over the last three weeks as they dropped out of playoff contention, they may not be the ideal opponent for Burnett to face. He's 5-13 with a 4.17 ERA in 23 matchups, by far his most losses against any team.Burnett allowed three hits over seven innings while not receiving a decision in a 1-0 home win April 17, then gave up six runs and 10 hits in five innings of a 6-4 loss at Atlanta on July 18 in his first start after the break.The Braves counter with another veteran in Aaron Harang (11-12, 3.60). The right-hander is trying to win at least 12 games for just the fourth time in 13 seasons.Atlanta's lineup hasn't helped him add to his win total in his last two starts, getting shut out each time while Harang posted a 1.93 ERA.He's 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season as Marlon Byrd has gone 5 for 10 with two home runs in their matchups.Jason Heyward and Chris Johnson are both 6 for 14 in their careers against Burnett, with Heyward hitting two homers and Johnson taking him deep once.Johnson hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning to give Atlanta a 4-0 lead in Friday's series opener, but the last-place Phillies rallied for a 5-4 win and handed the Braves their 15th loss in 18 games.