NEW YORK -- The Yankees plan to start right-hander A.J. Burnett in a potential Game 4 of the American League Division Series, which would be played on Tuesday at Comerica Park.

With left-hander CC Sabathia set to come back for Monday's Game 3, Burnett will move from the bullpen back to the rotation. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 33 appearances (32 starts) this year.

"His month of September was not bad," Girardi said. "You look at the strikeouts per nine innings, it was a complete turnaround from August."

Burnett struck out 36 batters in 29 1/3 September innings over six games (five starts), going 2-0 with a 4.30 ERA in the month. He was 1-2 with a 11.91 ERA in five August starts, striking out 17 in 22 2/3 innings.

In six career playoff starts, the 34-year-old Burnett is 1-2 with a 5.67 ERA. The Yankees originally planned on using him as a reliever for this round, but will need four starters due to Game 1's suspension on Friday.

"I have all the confidence in the world in A.J.," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. "He's had some good postseasons, so I think, in his mind, he's ready to go."

Burnett did not appear in last year's ALDS against the Twins, but took a loss in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series against the Rangers, serving up a key sixth-inning, three-run homer to catcher Bengie Molina in a 10-3 defeat. 

Cano tough to pitch around in third spot

NEW YORK -- Down the stretch of the regular season, opposing teams decided to pick their poison and pitch around Robinson Cano, preferring to test their luck elsewhere in the Yankees' batting order.

Now that Cano has been installed as the No. 3 hitter against right-handed pitching, however, the choices are becoming more difficult for opposing managers -- as was the case in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, when Cano cracked a grand slam and drove in six runs.

"It's always a difference when you have to pitch to someone like Robbie Cano," manager Joe Girardi said. "As [an opposing] manager, you try to avoid those situations.

"We want Robbie up in big situations -- he's been so productive the last two years, and you saw what he did in the playoffs last year, and he's off to a tremendous start this year."

With Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira hitting behind him, Cano said he feels protected in the No. 3 spot, and he recognizes there is responsibility in filling that role for New York.

"My staff thinks he's one of the top-five players in all of baseball, without question," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's a great player. He's one of the best players I've ever seen."

Praise aside, Cano said it was gratifying to come through when the Tigers took chances against him.

"You want to be able to do that with men in scoring position," Cano said. "At the same time, they walk you, you go to first [base] and then your teammates behind you do the job, too."

Ayala's slump not a concern for Girardi

NEW YORK -- Luis Ayala had a bumpy appearance out of the bullpen in the Yankees' final game of the regular season, and that trend continued in the first contest of New York's playoff run.

Ayala stumbled in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series, relieving Ivan Nova in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and one out.

Alex Avila's run-scoring fielder's choice put the Yankees one out from victory, but Ryan Raburn and Jhonny Peralta both logged run-scoring hits, forcing Mariano Rivera to come in for a three-pitch strikeout of Wilson Betemit to end the game.

"Pitchers go through it," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's pitched really well for us, and I think you have to look at his body of work. He got a ground ball from Avila, then he got another ground ball -- he's doing what he's supposed to do."

Ayala ranked seventh in the AL this year with a 2.09 ERA (13 earned runs in 56 innings) over 52 appearances, but coughed up three runs in an inning on Wednesday at Tropicana Field, as the Rays pulled off their epic Wild Card-clinching comeback from seven runs down.

Girardi said that calling on Rivera shouldn't present an issue, because the closer hadn't worked since Tuesday.

"I don't think it's going to hurt him," Girardi said. "Obviously it helps to keep him sharp."

Bomber bits

• The Yankees have sent right-hander Hector Noesi and left-hander Raul Valdes to their training complex in Tampa, Fla., to stay sharp in case they are needed in the future. Infielder Ramiro Pena has also been working out there.

• Manager Joe Girardi's advice to Andy Pettitte, who is set to throw the ceremonial first pitch of (appropriately) Game 2: "Don't bounce it. I'm sure he's thrown a lot of BP to his kids, though. He should be able to throw that pretty easy."

• CC Sabathia called Ivan Nova's performance in the continuation of Game 1 "unbelievable," but added that it was not surprising. "He's very confident, and you can see him growing all year," Sabathia said. "It's not surprising what he did, but it was great to see."