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Burnett ponders future after setback for Phils

Right-hander, who fans nine in uneven performance, hints at retirement @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryne Sandberg beamed in February, when the Phillies announced they had signed A.J. Burnett.

He pictured big things from his rotation.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Ryne Sandberg beamed in February, when the Phillies announced they had signed A.J. Burnett.

He pictured big things from his rotation.

View Full Game Coverage

"He's the belated Christmas present and Valentine's Day present that I've been waiting for," Sandberg said.

But a little more than six months later, the Phillies are 55-71 and last in the National League East while Burnett is 6-14 with a 4.42 ERA. It has been a frustrating year, which could be why Burnett followed Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Mariners at Citizens Bank Park with the notion he might retire after the season.

"I have no idea, probably not," said Burnett, when asked if he will play next year.

Probably not?

"Yeah," he said, "but we'll see."

Why does he say that?

"Why do I say that?" he repeated. "Because I said that before I signed."

Burnett spoke openly last year about retirement, but ultimately signed a one-year, $16 million contract in February, which included a tantalizing 2015 player option. Burnett made his 27th start of the season Tuesday, which moved his option to $10 million. It jumps to $11.75 million with his 30th start and $12.75 million with his 32nd start.

If the Phillies remain on a five-man rotation, Burnett is on pace for 34 starts.

He would be leaving life-changing money (for the average American, anyway) on the table if he retires.

Burnett allowed six hits, five runs, four walks, two hit batsmen and struck out nine in 7 2/3 innings. He has had trouble with his command this season. He leads baseball with 76 walks in 171 innings. Four of those free passes scored Tuesday.

He walked Austin Jackson on four pitches to start the game. Jackson stole second in the middle of a four-pitch walk to Dustin Ackley. Jackson and Ackley then stole third and second, respectively.

The Mariners had three stolen bases before Burnett had thrown his third strike.

Seattle scored both runners to take a 2-0 lead.

Burnett settled a bit, throwing four scoreless innings until he served a 3-0 fastball to Kyle Seager, who hit a solo home run to right field in the sixth inning to hand the Mariners a 3-0 lead. A hit batsman and walk in the eighth inning led to two more runs to make it 5-0.

"I'm not making pitches when I need to make pitches," said Burnett, who is 0-6 with a 6.41 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break. "I did earlier in the year. When I walked some guys and got in a jam I was able to make pitches. Tonight I had two guys on and I leave a sinker over the middle and it led to two runs instead of throwing a hook, getting a punch out and heading to the dugout with no runs. I'm not making the right pitches. The guy hits a homer off me on a 3-0 pitch. That's probably the only pitch the guy can hit off me ... It's been a rough stretch. But it's still my job."

He has had company. The Phillies nearly endured their 14th shutout of the season before they scored two runs in the ninth inning against the Mariners' bullpen.

The Phillies had little chance against Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who entered the night seventh in the American League with a 2.72 ERA and third in the league with a 0.98 WHIP. He allowed four hits and struck out 11 in eight scoreless innings.

"We had the lead early, which is big for me because I'm all about pitching to contact," Iwakuma said through his translator. "I was just trying to get quick outs, being aggressive and going after hitters and that worked out well for me again."

But it has been this way much of the season. The Phillies have been held to three or fewer runs 65 times, which is sixth most in baseball. They have been held to two or fewer runs 49 times, which is second most in baseball.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week in Anaheim the Phillies need to upgrade their starting pitching. If Burnett retires, the 2015 rotation has at least one more hole to fill. Cole Hamels is expected to be the Opening Day starter, unless he is traded. Cliff Lee is recuperating from a strained left flexor pronator. Kyle Kendrick is a free agent and seems unlikely to return. Jerome Williams has pitched well in two starts since taking Roberto Hernandez's spot in the rotation, but the Phillies might not consider him a long-term solution.

Regardless, there is plenty of work to do.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies, A.J. Burnett