C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez, ??????? Even with a radically different ball club than last year's World Champions, the Yankees have few questions compared to other teams. Aside from staying healthy, their main concerns include their outfield, batting lineup, and most crucially, pitching. Their 5-man pitching rotation is 80% complete. While they are unsure who will ultimately fill that role, another perspective is that they have a number of really good candidates that make the final decision so difficult. Major contenders include Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain with the latter two leading the race.
The Yankees experimented with all 5 listed candidates last year as starters. The fact remains, the race really is between Joba and Hughes and whoever wins will dictate the destiny of the 2010 bullpen with the only certainty being Mariano's role. There is more than one bridge to Mariano, but which one is the expressway and which is gridlocked, accident-prone mess? All reports at this time indicate it's Joba's spot to lose. Both perform well as relievers and you can argue for hours which performed better as starters last year.
One stand-out moment for Hughes as a starter last year was in a 4th of July day game at the Texas Rangers where he faced a bases loaded, no out situation. He went on to strike out the side in their eventual victory over the Rangers.
During a July 29th game in 2009 which I personally attended, Joba went 8 strong innings surrendering 3 hits and no runs in a visit to the Tampa Bay Rays. The only hiccup of the night was the bullpen which couldn't preserve the shutout, surrendering 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th to leave with a 6-2 victory.
In my opinion, Hughes has the poise and the mindset for the starter role whereas Joba loves the rush of running in from the pen, shooting 10-15 quality, upper 90s pitches and waving that fist after that big out. Evidently, the Yankees have molded Joba to the starter role for the past 2 years and would enjoy seeing him take the ball every 5th day. Of course, what they want isn't always what they get so it is quite literally a "wait-and-see" game as both pitchers showcase their stuff. Quite often, the only opponents during Spring Training are your teammates.
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