Even as the Phillies floundered for the first month of the season, Burnett was as good as advertised.
He had a 2.06 ERA in his first seven starts. The Phillies won five of those seven games.
But in his last six starts, Burnett, who experienced a late-career renaissance in Pittsburgh in the last two seasons, has looked a lot more like the 24-year-old kid who once walked nine batters in a no-hitter with the Florida Marlins.
Burnett pitched out of trouble spots in his first three innings at Nationals Park last night, but his 13th start of the season went very bad from there. Washington scored four times off the 37-year-old righthander in the fourth inning and didn’t let up until Burnett’s night came to an end in an 8-4 loss.
The final third of the game was stunted by a 108-minute rain delay. But the outcome was all but decided before the tarp was applied to the field.
The loss was the fifth in a row for the Phillies, a season high. Only one team in the National League has fewer wins than the Phillies (24-33): the sad-sack Chicago Cubs (22-34).
Burnett was charged with eight runs on 10 hits and four walks in six innings. It was the most earned runs he allowed in a game since he gave up 12 earned runs in 2-2/3 innings of a 12-3 loss at St. Louis on May 2, 2012.
Burnett is 1-4 with a 7.25 ERA in his last six starts. He leads all major league pitchers with 41 walks.
“I don’t pitch around people, I don’t care who’s up there,” Burnett said. “That’s putting me in passive mode. That’s my fault. I got to go after hitters. I don’t care if a base is open. That’s not who I am. … I need to get back doing what I do. And I will.”
Early in the season, Burnett showed the ability to escape trouble or turn up his focus for damage control. But couldn’t tap into that mentality when last night’s game began to turn on him.
With the Phils and Nats scoreless through 3-1/2 innings, Adam LaRoche led off the bottom of the fourth with a double. After Ryan Zimmerman grounded out, Burnett walked back-to-back hitters to load the bases for Danny Espinosa.
Burnett did not bear down. Instead, he made a very bad pitch.
Ahead in the count 1-2, Burnett hung a sinker up and over the heart of the plate, and Espinosa ripped it into rightfield for a two-run double.
Espinosa, who entered the series hitting .202 in the season’s first 2 months, is 4-for-8 in the first two games of this series.
Burnett didn’t limit the damage to just the Espinosa double. Opposing pitcher Stephen Strasburg followed with his first RBI of the season, by way of a run-scoring single.
“A lot of times with walks, you're flirting with fire,” Sandberg said. “You're adding baserunners without hits. And a combine those clutch hit or two … and that's where it comes back to bite you.”
The Phillies managed to cut the 4-0 deficit in half on the next half inning, when the Nationals made two errors and new leftfielder Zimmerman misplayed a ball. But then Burnett immediately gave one of those two runs back. Anthony Rendon led off the sixth with a home run, his second in as many nights against the Phillies, to up Washington’s lead to 5-2. The Nationals scored three more off Burnett in the sixth inning, capped by Rendon’s two-run single.
“For somebody who harps on shutout innings,” Burnett said, “I’ve been pretty horse[bleep] at it.”
Rendon, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, finished the night 3-for-4 with three RBI against Burnett. The Phillies can only hope to nab a player with similar talent in tonight’s major league baseball draft, when they hold the seventh overall pick in the first round.
The way the 2014 season is going, they’ll probably have a pick even higher in the 2015 draft.
Thanks to a loss by the first-place Atlanta Braves, their sixth in their last nine games, the last-place Phillies remain only 6-1/2 games out of first place in a relatively weak National League East.
“We got another game tomorrow,” Burnett said. “That’s the good thing. It’s not over. The sun is going to come up. It might be a little cloudy. But we got another game tomorrow. We have a chance to get a ‘W’ tomorrow, to get back on the right foot. That’s the way I look at it.”
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21