Sean Burnett stood in front of his locker Monday afternoon and classified his season — or at least the last five weeks or so of it — as “terrible.”
From a promising start, a spotless spring training and use in save situations early this season, Burnett has take a tumble. He’ll be the first to admit it.
“I feel good, I feel strong, but I’ve just been terrible,” he said. “No way to explain it, just flat out terrible.”
The left-hander is in a stretch of his career where he’s facing an unprecedented struggle, at least when he’s healthy, and the fact of the matter is the numbers don’t even fully indicate that. Sure, Burnett’s ERA is an undesirable 5.59, but ERA is a misleading statistic when it comes to relievers — especially ones who’ve thrown just 19 1/3 innings all year.
The one that Burnett’s likely most concerned about is this one: 9 of the 17 runners he’s inherited (53 percent) have scored — including Placido Polanco on Monday.
On Monday, though, while allowing Polanco to score was not what he wanted, it happened on a ground ball by Ryan Howard to the right side that squirted into right field. A few inches one way or the other and that’s a double play. The more troubling thing for Burnett was the walk to Chase Utley one batter before Howard’s hit. An at-bat that went from 0-2 to walk over the course of six pitches. Utley, of course, was the winning run in the Nationals 5-4 loss to the Phillies.
“You can’t walk him,” Burnett said. “No matter what… (At 3-2) you’ve got to throw something over, you’ve got to make him hit the ball and it was just bad execution that led to a walk.”
Bad execution, Burnett said, is what’s led to a lot of his struggles this season.
“Not trusting your stuff as much as I should be,” he said when asked if he could pinpoint the issue. “I think it comes down to poor execution and trying to catch a break every now and then but if you don’t execute, then you don’t deserve one.”
A break, for example, like one that would have turned Howard’s grounder into an inning-ending double play and given Burnett the clean inning he and the Nationals so desperately needed.
“There you go,” he said. “When you’re not pitching well it seems like those go against you. When things are going well for you and you’re making your pitches, that might be at somebody for a double play. But the way things are going right now, that’s right up to par.”
“It’s unfortunate and unacceptable and I hold myself to a higher standard than that,” Burnett said. “I’m the first one to take the blame on this one.”