A.J. Burnett's two sons, Allan Jr. and Ashton, scampered through the Phillies clubhouse Monday night with Nerf guns. They shot rubber darts to celebrate their dad's 3-2 win over Washington, and Burnett's dilemma manifested.
The last 16 summers were spent away from his family; retirement could tempt him.
"I have some options for next year, of course," Burnett said. "But I signed a one-year deal for a reason. Those little rug rats you saw running around here and Karen, my wife, there is a big reason for that. I've been away from them for a long time.
"But minds do change. I was in the same spot last year, and my mind changed. We'll just see how I feel at the end of the season."
Burnett's previous seven starts produced a 6.41 ERA and seven Phillies losses. The hottest team in baseball arrived Monday at Citizens Bank Park and could not hit the 37-year-old righthander. He said he made a mechanical adjustment after studying video of his strikeouts from earlier this season.
His fastball gained some velocity Monday. Burnett became the first Phillies pitcher not named Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, or Roy Halladay to strike out 12 batters since Brett Myers did it in 2006. He struck out 10 Washington batters in the game's first five innings.
Solo homers by Cody Asche and Carlos Ruiz gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead. Burnett departed after seven innings.
He pitched around another Domonic Brown fielding mistake in the seventh. Ian Desmond hit a fly ball that nicked Brown's glove and bounced to the wall for a leadoff double. Burnett retired the next three Nationals on three pitches.
"That's the first time I've felt like me in a long time," Burnett said. "I wish I could have found that little glitch two months ago."
With four more starts, Burnett will increase the value of his 2015 player option to $12.75 million. (He can earn a $750,000 bonus this season with two more starts.) The team could not trade him in July because of that lucrative option. Burnett must exercise the option and decide whether he will play in 2015 soon after this season's World Series.
Retaining Burnett for another season "was the idea" when the Phillies agreed to the contract. But the veteran righthander has endured a difficult season, and a rebuilding team like the Phillies could look to fill two rotation spots with Burnett's potential salary.
"We have the ability to bring him back," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Obviously, there's going to be a challenge for us, with Lee being out - we're hopeful he'll be ready for opening day next year. We've got obviously Cole and [David] Buchanan. Beyond that, we have a lot of open spots. So pitching is going to be a priority. Starting pitching is going to be a priority for us next year."