The New York Yankees came into the season with many question marks about the starting pitching rotation.
Anytime you come into a season with two guys who are still rookies, despite pitching in September last year as the back of your rotation, the ball club will still need veteran pitching.
In modern baseball times, teams are trying to protect young pitching and set pitch counts, which are usually around 100 pitches per game. For the season, the teams like to set a limit of around 150 innings.
While these numbers are flexible especially during pennant races, the Yankees’ bullpen is going to be beat up. Come the July 31 trading deadline, there will be no middle relief to trade for. There just isn't enough to go around.
With Brian Bruney going down for the season, the Yankees are left with some holes in the pen. Sure, Joba and Mariano are about as solid as the back end of the bullpen as it gets, but the starters are not pitching deep enough into ball games.
The slow starts of Hughes and Kennedy probably do call for a visit to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Even so, Mussina is the key to this rotation and for the Yankees’ success.
Wang and Pettite are a very reliable 1-2 punch, and should combine for somewhere around 32-36 wins and 400 innings pitched.
Mussina needs to show that despite his aging he can still locate his fast ball at 87-89 miles per hour and throw a change up and curve ball.
Recently Mussina has been deceptive with a “herky jerky" delivery and throwing a 69 mph curve ball right after an 89 mph fast ball.
That is how you pitch at the age of 39 when your fast ball has lost a bit of velocity. He also must understand that even when down in the count he CAN'T throw an 86 mph fast ball right over the plate.
A good major league hitter will take advantage of a pitcher's mistakes.
Mixing up speeds and pitches is the way to pitch in the major leagues. That is how you throw hitters off balance and make them have to look for the off-speed stuff.
When a hitter is so focused on an off-speed pitch, it makes it impossible to hit the 87-89 mph fast ball.
Mussina needs to be able to consistently give the Yankees 6-7 innings. If not, Ross Ohlendorf will throw his arm out as the middle inning reliever.
He has already made 10 appearances in the first 28 games, and these appearances are often long, such as last night's three-and-one-third shutout performance.
If Mussina can win games and pitch well, the Yankees will be in the division and wild card races in the jam packed American League. If you look at recent World Series champs, they had three effective starters.
Take last year with the rival Red Sox. They had Beckett, Matzusaka, and Schilling. Although Schilling was injured for a significant part of the season, he stepped up in the postseason even with diminished velocity.
While Mussina will not win every start, he needs to just keep his team in the game by maybe pitching six innings and giving up three runs. This offense should be able to score four runs and win the game.
Mussina needs to absorb some innings even if he is getting beat. This will save the bullpen from pitching too many innings and becoming ineffective when they really need it.
I see how the Yankees have abused the late to middle inning pitchers such as Scott Proctor, Tanyon Sturtze, and Paul Quantril who earlier this decade would be making 70 appearances in a season.
Pitching wins championships, and the Yankees will go as far as Mussina is able to take them.