Mike Mussina turned in his worst season as a full-time starter in 2007, managing just 11 victories and a career-high 5.15 ERA. Despite those numbers, the New York Yankees still believe he has some good innings left.
Mussina begins his eighth season with the Yankees (1-0) on Wednesday night when they continue their three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays (0-1).
The 39-year-old right-hander was 11-10 with a 5.15 ERA last season in 28 appearances, including 27 starts. He felt a hamstring injury last April contributed to his poor season, as well as a sprained right foot he suffered in June.
“You’ve got to work through it,” Mussina said. “There’s certain things, if you can’t physically go out there and do it, it’s one thing. Just a little bit sore, it’s different. You go out there and still do your job. It was that way most of the times I went out there. The 27 starts I had, there was probably 22 or 23 of them that I didn’t feel very good at all.”
Mussina was dropped from the rotation after allowing 20 runs over 9 2-3 innings in three straight outings in August. He returned in September and went 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA in his last four starts.
“We’re counting on him,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s not an accident he has over 200 wins. Moose knows how to pitch. We’re counting on him.”
Mussina, who is fourth among active pitchers with 250 victories, appreciates that Girardi isn’t leaving him out of the rotation.
“I’m just thankful that they’re still giving me a chance to go out there and do what I’ve been doing for as long as I’ve been a pitcher,” Mussina said.
Since joining the Yankees in 2001, Mussina is 14-4 with a 3.42 ERA against Toronto in 21 starts. He is one shy of Roger Clemens’ 24 career wins against the Blue Jays - the most by any pitcher against them.
Mussina’s mound opponent on Wednesday, A.J. Burnett (10-8, 3.75 ERA), can relate to having injury woes. Burnett has had 10 stints on the disabled list in his nine-year career, including four in the first two seasons of his five-year deal with the Blue Jays.
Burnett was limited to 25 starts and 165 2-3 innings a season ago, but hopes he can rely more on his changeup this season to help him remain healthy.
The right-hander is 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA in six career starts against the Yankees, lasting into the seventh inning in four of the last five outings.
Burnett has faced Bobby Abreu more than any other hitter and the Yankees right fielder is 13-for-40 (.325) with 11 walks against the Blue Jays starter.
New York began the final season at Yankee Stadium with a 3-2 victory on Tuesday, one day after the opener was postponed due to rain. Chien-Ming Wang pitched seven strong innings as Girardi won his debut as Yankees manager.
“He just congratulated me and he said that’s No. 1 and let’s get a lot more,” said Girardi about closer Mariano Rivera handing him the ball after the game. “It’s a neat moment for me.”
Melky Cabrera hit a tying homer in the sixth inning and made two outstanding catches in center field. Reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez had an RBI double in the first inning and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh on Hideki Matsui’s groundout.
Aaron Hill’s leadoff double in the seventh was Toronto’s only extra-base hit to go with five singles. After Wang shut down the Blue Jays, Joba Chamberlain and Rivera each pitched a hitless inning to close out the win.
Matt Stairs may make his season debut for Toronto on Wednesday. Stairs has been nursing a sore hip flexor.