The Twins signed Jared Burton as a minor league free agent on Nov. 11, 2011. They did so knowing that he was on the rebound from right shoulder surgery and he would have to be protected to a degree in his workload.
This was one of the few things that worked well for the 2012 Twins, as Burton worked 62 innings in 64 games, registered a 2.18 ERA and held opponents to a .186 batting average.
The Twins were impressed enough to sign Burton to a two-year contract. He turned 32 in early June, and at that point it seemed to be a very wise decision by Terry Ryan’s front office.
Burton had made 27 appearances in 2013, holding a lead 13 times, saving two games and losing two leads. He had a 2.03 ERA and opponents were batting .204.
A month later, the Twins are in position to contemplate if it is time to start protecting themselves from Burton.
He blew another game Monday night, entering with the Twins holding a 4-3 lead over the Yankees in the eighth, and leaving with one out, rookie Zoilo Almonte at third, and the Twins trailing 5-4.
Manager Ron Gardenhire came to get Burton to the accompaniment of boos and shouts from the second deck with the message, “Way to go, Gardy.”
The folks following this team — and Monday’s paltry crowd of 29,619 indicated that number is in serious decline — have grown increasingly unhappy with Gardenhire’s loyalty to Burton as his eighth-inning man.
After Monday night, the dreadful résumé for Burton since June 6 is as follows:
He has been in 10 games, lost three, pitched nine innings, allowed 17 hits and nine runs, for an ERA of 9.00 and a batting average of .386 for opponents.
On Sunday, Burton entered with a 7-7 tie and gave up a home run to Kansas City’s David Lough.
On Monday, Burton entered with that 4-3 lead and gave up a booming double to Robinson Cano. From there, Burton failed to retire Ichiro Suzuki on a bunt, threw away a pickoff attempt, gave up an RBI single to Almonte and mercifully departed.
OK, it wasn’t that merciful, since Gardenhire then gave an increasingly ornery crowd a look at Brian Duensing, his other option as a setup man. Duensing and the Twins turned the ninth into an outrage against baseball, as the Yankees scored four runs for a 10-4 victory.
The Yankees came to town with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson all absent from the lineup. The only remaining star, Cano, hit two home runs to produce New York’s first three runs, and the Twins bullpen produced the rest.
By the end, there were only stragglers in Target Field, dealing with the reality that even when the Yankees are the Faux Yankees, they still figure to make the Twins look foolish on a ballfield.
Postgame, Gardenhire went with tradition and said, “We got to the right guys at the end,” while also knowing this was not an opinion shared by a majority of his team’s followers.
Not many feel Burton is the right guy at the moment, but then Option B, Duensing, or Option C, Josh Roenicke, didn’t look like the right guy in that pathetic ninth.
“Burton gave up that hit to Cano, and then he threw the ball around a couple of times,” Gardenhire said. “He just got flabbergasted out there, if that’s the word.”
Actually, Burton got flustered, and the customers got flabbergasted, as he threw away Suzuki’s bunt, and then threw a pickoff throw past first base.
Gardenhire was asked what he sees different with Burton, from his terrific Twins introduction in 2012, and then the first two months of this season.
“He’s not able to finish off a hitter — we saw that with Cano tonight,” the manager said. “The changeup isn’t in the strike zone, and it’s not a pitch they are chasing.”
When he was good, Burton was throwing a fastball or two to get ahead, then throwing the changeup out of a perfect motion, sending it toward knee level andhaving it dive under some silly looking hacks.
“He looks different, kind of on the side of the ball,” Gardenhire said. “We’re trying to figure what’s wrong … We desperately need him.”