Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain Struggle in Spring Debuts for Yankees

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Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain Struggle in Spring Debuts for Yankees
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If the competition for the Yankees' No. 5 starter's spot is truly a five-man race, frontrunners Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes would currently rank fourth and fifth on the depth chart.

After Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves each turned in two scoreless innings of work in Wednesday's spring opener against the Pirates, Hughes and Chamberlain both struggled in their first outings on Friday.

Hughes started the game against the Rays and nearly gave up a home run on the second pitch he threw to leadoff man Jason Bartlett, but the ball drifted just foul down the left-field line.

After the shortstop grounded out, however, left fielder Sean Rodriguez belted a home run over Curtis Granderson in center field.

The next two batters, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist also hit the ball hard, but were retired on a fly out and ground out, respectively.

Hughes pitched better in the second inning, but did walk catcher Dioner Navarro.

The right-hander finished the day throwing just 18 of his 34 pitches for strikes.

Chamberlain, who battled the flu earlier this week, entered in the third inning and didn't look right from the start. He walked first baseman Chris Richard to leadoff the frame and then surrendered back-to-back RBI triples to Bartlett and Rodriguez.

After Longoria drove in a run on a ground out to third, Chamberlain walked Zobrist and got B.J. Upton to fly out to shallow right, before getting out of the jam on a nice play by Robinson Cano.

Joba's second inning of work wasn't much better as he walked one more and gave up a single before exiting with two men aboard. Those two runners came around to score and Chamberlain's line ended like this: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K. He threw only 16 of his 34 pitches for strikes and was consistently missing up in the zone.

Obviously you can't read too much into these first appearances by both pitchers and Joba is still my pick to fill the fifth starter's role for two reasons.

First, he has by far better career numbers as a starter. Chamberlain is 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA, while Hughes is 8-9 with a 5.22 ERA.

Second, what was the point of playing all those games with Joba last year - limiting his pitches and innings - if the Yankees are just going to stunt his growth again by putting him back in the bullpen? Why not just let him start and if he really falters, you can always return him to the 'pen and replace him with Hughes.

This serves two purposes because Hughes has never thrown more than 86 innings in a Major League season, so if he were to start the year as the No. 5 starter, by July, the team would wind up putting the same ridiculous restrictions on him as they did on Chamberlain last year.

And we'd be starting this nonsense all over again.

Follow me on Twitter at JordanHarrison .

Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book  Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.

Jordan can be reached at jordanschwartz2003@yahoo.com

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