- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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TAMPA, Fla. -- After four weeks of insisting such designations did not matter and one week of delaying an official announcement, Joe Girardi made it official Saturday afternoon: Despite his subpar 2010 season, A.J. Burnett will be the Yankees' No. 2 starter this season. Phil Hughes, who won 18 games last year in his first full season as a starter, will be No. 3.
"That was our plan all along," said Girardi, who had been promising to reveal his pitching rotation all week -- and then delaying it each day by another day -- before finally making the announcement after Saturday's Yankees-Blue Jays game, which ended in a 5-5 tie.
"That's what we brought A.J. here to do, bottom line," Girardi said. "In 2009, he was very important for us, he pitched very well for us. Playoffs, World Series, you name it. He struggled last year but we believe he's gonna be back."
Burnett, 34, is in the third year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, and he won 13 games for the Yankees in 2009 and a game in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, but slid to a 10-15 record and 5.26 ERA last season, and was removed from the rotation for the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins.
After a winter session with pitching coach Larry Rothschild at his home in Maryland, Burnett was having a decent spring until Friday, when he struggled in a four-inning stint, allowing four runs (two earned) and five hits, including a home run by Jose Molina. He also threw two wild pitches and hit a batter.
"It was obviously his toughest performance of the spring, but he battled," GM Brian Cashman said Saturday. "He's had a heck of a spring. Yesterday was really the first hiccup. I'm excited about the spring he's had so far in spite of yesterday's outing. He knows how important he is to us."
And yet, all spring long, Girardi has used Hughes in the spot normally occupied by the No. 2 starter, following ace CC Sabathia in the rotation. That, Girardi said Saturday, was a happenstance caused by scheduling concerns and his and Rothschild'a desire to make sure all the starters got sufficient rest.
"We were just evaluating," Girardi said. "We wanted to see what we saw. But this was our plan all along. We like what he's done in spring training and he's going to start second."
"I don't really care," Burnett had said in the clubhouse Saturday morning, before the move was announced. "Either way, just give me the ball."