Molina to catch for Burnett in ALDS
NEW YORK -- The A.J. Burnett-Jorge Posada tandem performed to less than rave reviews during the regular season, so Yankees manager Joe Girardi is giving Burnett a different batterymate in the American League Division Series.
Before the Yankees held a pre-playoff workout at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Posada told reporters that Jose Molina will be the catcher in Burnett's first start in the series.
Posada said Girardi told him of the decision Sunday in Tampa. Posada kept his reaction to a minimum, but the tone of his voice and the brevity of his responses were clear signs of his disappointment.
"I just hope we win that game. That's all I've got to say," Posada said.
Posada later added, "It's not like I didn't see it coming."
The Yankees plan to start CC Sabathia on Wednesday night in the series opener against the Twins. Burnett will pitch Game 2 on Friday in New York, and Andy Pettitte will be the starter when the series shifts to Minnesota for Game 3. That means Sabathia and Burnett will both be in line for two starts if the series goes the maximum five games.
Girardi said he went with Molina because Burnett and Molina have been working so well together lately, and he didn't want to disrupt their chemistry.
"When a pitcher and a catcher get in a rhythm, you hate to break it up,'' Girardi said. "And that's kind of the feeling we have going now. Jorge is our No. 1 catcher. But in this situation, we just are going to choose to catch Molina.''
Girardi said that Posada will probably not be used as a designated hitter when he's not catching; that role belongs to Hideki Matsui. Posada will be behind the plate for both Sabathia and Pettitte, but Girardi said he understands why Posada would be displeased over sitting out when Burnett is on the mound.
"I'm sure he's disappointed,'' Girardi said. "Jorge would want to play every inning. I don't blame him. That's how I want him to be. If I was in his shoes, I would want to play every game, too.''
It's become readily apparent that Burnett has developed a greater comfort level throwing to Molina than to Posada. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Burnett has struck out 79 of 434 batters while pitching to Posada this season. Opponents are hitting .270 against Burnett and have a .775 OPS when Posada is his catcher.
In contrast, Burnett has struck out 77 of 288 batters while throwing to Molina. Opposing hitters have a .221 batting average and a .658 OPS against Burnett when he's working with Molina.
Burnett, who went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in his first year as a Yankee, pitched perhaps his most memorable game of the season with Posada behind the plate. On Aug. 7 in New York, he threw 7 2/3 innings of one-hit, shutout ball to beat Boston 2-0.
But two weeks later, after Burnett was shelled for nine runs in a 14-1 loss to the Red Sox, his lack of synergy with Posada became an issue.
Molina was the catcher in Burnett's last six starts, and Burnett closed the season with a rush. He posted a 1.88 ERA in his final four appearances, and struck out 28 batters in 24 innings.
The Yankees are hoping that a more focused and efficient Burnett will compensate for the offense they sacrifice with Molina, a strong defender who has a .235 career batting average and a .277 OBP over parts of 10 seasons in the majors.
As the Yankees waited to learn the identity of their ALDS opponent earlier Tuesday, they resolved some housekeeping issues and kept a few decisions on hold. The Yankees still have to decide if they want to carry a third catcher, Francisco Cervelli, and if they would rather round out the roster with pinch runner Freddy Guzman or keep Damaso Marte as a second left-hander in the bullpen.
It appears that Joba Chamberlain -- who made 31 starts and one relief appearance in the regular season -- is available in a variety of roles out of the bullpen in the Division Series.
"He can do anything from being a one-inning guy to being a two- or three-inning guy or even a longer guy,'' Girardi said.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com.