By Jon Lane
Nick Swisher had a great line after the disaster that was the Yankees’ 15-5 loss the the Rays: This game is like an Etch-A-Sketch, you need to shake it and start over again.
Whenever our own Jim Kaat worked a game in which nothing went right, he’d call it an “amnesia game,” one that you forget about quickly. You turn the page to the next day and the next game. That’s what the Yankees need to do tonight. I say this knowing that much of their fan base is already proclaiming the season a bust: There will be more of these amnesia games, so suck it up and focus on the big picture.
That leads me to Chien-Ming Wang. It may be two starts, and seasons are defined over the long haul, but there are big problems here. A pitcher who was 46-15 with a 3.74 ERA from 2006-08 has given up 15 runs on 15 hits and six walks in 4 2/3 innings covering two games for an ERA of 28.93. In light the worst start of Wang’s career (eight runs on six hits while recording only three outs), John Harper suggested that he may find himself out of the rotation by May should he keep throwing his sinker thigh-high.
Phil Hughes won his first start at Triple-A Scranton on Sunday after allowing three runs on six hits in six innings with six strikeouts and would be the first one called up in the event of injury or poor performance. If Wang, a two-time 19-game winner, were to be removed from the rotation, it wouldn’t be without precedent. Two seasons ago, Joe Torre pulled a struggling Mike Mussina in favor of Ian Kennedy following a stretch in which the veteran right-hander allowed 19 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings — an ERA of 17.69 — over three starts.
Incidentally, the last of those three starts was a 16-0 Yankees loss to the Tigers on August 27, 2007 – in the heat of a pennant race. Not only did Mussina finish the season 3-0, the Yankees recovered to make the playoffs. Nothing like breaking out the Etch-A-Sketch in times of need.
For now, Wang is starting Saturday against the Indians and it’s way to early to conclude that he’s suddenly forgotten how to pitch. When his sinker is up and the rest of his repetoire is flat, he’s in a world of hurt, and even if opposing hitters’ homework is paying off, the good pitchers make adjustments and continue to evolve. That’s where Wang is right now. Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada say the problem is mechanical, and Wang added he’s not injured. But if this continues by mid-May, tough decisions will have to be made. And then you have to worry about the bullpen and whether it’ll be running on fumes by the All-Star break.
Peter Abraham speculated that the Yankees may need to make a move tonight to strengthen their bullpen, which leaves Jon Albaladejo and Phil Coke as candidates to be optioned out. Last night was the most powerful argument why the Yankees leaving Florida without a long reliever was a mistake. It got to the point where Swisher was on the mound in the eighth inning. The Yankees are better than that, and to quote Posada, “Wanger is better than that. He knows that.”
Back with more later, including tonight’s starting lineups. And T-minus two days until the home opener.