Burnett-Molina battery intact for Game 5
Girardi keeps Matsui at DH with Posada ready off bench
ANAHEIM -- Thursday marked A.J. Burnett's third start of the postseason, and backup catcher Jose Molina's third start as well. And that's no coincidence.
In a nod to what's worked so far in the playoffs, Yankees manager Joe Girardi started Molina over Jorge Posada yet again for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Angel Stadium. The idea was to keep Burnett, who was wild yet effective in his first two postseason starts, as comfortable as possible on the mound.
Opposing batters hit .221 off Burnett in the 11 regular-season starts that Molina caught, and .270 against him in the 16 games that Posada caught.
Seemingly, though, the sacrifice required to start Molina over Posada is growing. Posada is hitting .308 with a home run during the ALCS, and .333 with two long balls over the span of the postseason. Over his past two games, Posada has reached base a combined six times, with three walks, a single and a homer.
Girardi, though, opted not to start Posada in the designated hitter's position on Thursday over a somewhat slumping Hideki Matsui. Though Posada has certainly produced more consistently this postseason, he is not accustomed to playing as a DH. And using him there would force the Yankees to relinquish their DH slot if they wanted Posada to replace Molina in the field at some point -- as he has in each of the previous two games Burnett has started.
"DH'ing is a different animal," Girardi said. "It's not necessarily the easiest trade to learn. It takes people some time. So we felt comfortable with Matsui still in that situation, even though Jorge's swinging the bat so well."
Matchups did not play much of a role in the decision. In Game 1 against John Lackey, Posada went 0-for-3 with a walk while Matsui finished 2-for-3 with a walk, a single, a double and two RBIs. But for his career, Posada is a .414 hitter off Lackey, while Matsui has hit him at a .286 clip.
Those numbers certainly caused Girardi to pause when considering whether or not to continue starting Molina over the hot-hitting Posada at catcher. But Girardi also had to consider that, despite his wildness, Burnett has posted a 2.19 ERA in two postseason starts, striking out 10 batters. And that was evidence enough for the Yankees to keep their battery intact.
"We are going to stick with our plan," Girardi said. "Our plan has worked very well the previous two starts. Pitching is what wins ballgames for you. The A.J. and Molina matchup has been very good."
Girardi did tinker the bottom of his lineup a bit, dropping Nick Swisher -- who usually hits sixth when Molina plays -- down to seventh. Robinson Cano, who has hit seventh all postseason long and is a .231 career hitter off Lackey, moved up to Swisher's regular sixth spot.
"We feel comfortable with Robbie hitting there," Girardi said. "Both of their at-bats were decent off of Lackey, but we just feel more comfortable with Robbie."
The rest of the Yankees' lineup remained the same: Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot playing shortstop, followed by Johnny Damon in left field, Mark Teixeira at first base, Alex Rodriguez at third base, Matsui at DH, Cano at second base, Swisher in right field, Melky Cabrera in center field and Molina at catcher.
Jeter, to no one's surprise, remained in the lineup despite battling a minor illness.
"If you ask him how he feels, he gives you the same answer every time: 'Great,'" Girardi said. "So I think he is better. I think the day off probably physically helped him and kind of let him rejuvenate a little bit. But as far as being concerned about him playing? No concerns."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.