By Jon Lane
It’s one start. One start, or a handful, doesn’t make a person a success or a failure. But Phil Hughes Tuesday night?
Phil the Thrill
Phil Franchise (copyright: Peter Abraham)
“I don’t think you can do any better,” said manager Joe Girardi.
Monday night showed you why Phil Hughes was touted as one day being The Franchise. He showed, for one night, why he wasn’t traded for even the great Johan Santana and that patience can be a virtue even in Yankee-land. That said, watch Hughes get rocked on Sunday and those who today are proclaiming him The Franchise will start demanding his demotion, and the hiring of Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips to run the club.
Brian Cashman said it best the day he announced he was staying with the Yankees: If the Yankees spend money, they’re criticized for doing so frivolously. If they build a program – gee, what a concept – they take heat for blowing off a chance to win right now. You can’t have it both ways, folks. But what Hughes provided in his best start since that night he tossed 6 1/3 no-hit innings is optimism that Cashman’s vision will actually work. You don’t proclaim Hughes a success off one start, but you neither call Chien-Ming Wang a lost cause nor Joba Chamberlain a failed starter either.
The Joba-back-to-the-bullpen campaign is gaining tremendous steam, one that will blister the sports talk radio airwaves if he flounders tonight against the Tigers (YES HD, 7 p.m.). If Chamberlain throws six-seven splendid innings, that will pave the road for what will be a difficult decision, but an excellent problem to have.
Picture this: Hughes builds off Monday night. Chamberlain gets into a grove. Wang finds himself. Brian Bruney comes back healthy and Mark Melancon proves to be the real deal. How tempting would it be for the Yankees to add Chamberlain to a late-inning mix with Bruney and Melancon?
It’s risky business. I echo Ron Guidry telling Mike Francesa during the winter that you cannot continue to yank Chamberlain up and down like a yo-yo. And it takes time for power pitchers, especially young ones in their early 20s with an injury history like Chamberlain, to ratchet up velocity and nail down location at the same time. But if Hughes shows he’s here to stay, you can’t move him to the bullpen (ditto a two-time 19-game winner).
I’ve said for months that Chamberlain should be a starter and won’t waver now. But in the interest of fairness, the other side of it is while potential 20-game winners don’t come around often, neither does a close-to-a-replacement-as-humanly-possible for Mariano Rivera. And Joba-to-the-bullpen means less, if not the elimination, of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez and Damaso Marte, that’s something to seriously consider for the greater good.
The Wang project will take at least a few weeks, enough time for a full evaluation. Wang is the wild card here. If he’s completely shot or a major physical problem reveals itself, Hughes and Chamberlain join Andy Pettitte as the back-end starters. The only thing for Hughes to do is pitch to win, not to avoid going back down to Scranton.
“We want him to pitch great and stay in the rotation,” Girardi said. “What you want as a manager is to have more starters throwing well than spots you have.”
What you have here is a storyline that is tasty and compelling, and one that will build towards a climax if everything goes to plan. It’s better than last season, when injuries and ineffectiveness forced Girardi to hand starting roles to Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, Dan Giese and everyone’s favorite, Carl Pavano.
How do you see this playing out?