Entering Monday, many pundits believed Phil Hughes had all but locked up the fifth starter's role in the Yankees rotation, but by 4 p.m., everything grew a bit hazy again.
Coming off a solid three inning, three strikeout, one run performance against the Phillies on Wednesday, Joba Chamberlain, Hughes' main competitor, again pitched well in an intrasquad game. He allowed two runs on six hits and struck out one over five innings, reportedly displaying a good changeup and improved velocity.
Later in the day, Hughes took the mound against Philadelphia in relief of A.J. Burnett. The 23-year-old's first pitch was driven over the left field wall by outfielder Ben Franciso.
Hughes' second offering was also scorched to left by Dane Sardinha, but this one was held up by the wind and tracked down at the fence by Brett Gardner.
The right-hander then settled down to retire the next four batters before surrendering an opposite field double to Ryan Howard. After the first baseman moved to third on a fly ball by Greg Dobbs, Hughes picked up a big strikeout of Raul Ibanez to help escape the jam.
Leading off the eighth inning, Sardinha got his revenge on Hughes by using the wind to lift a home run to right, but the pitcher set down the next five batters and looked to be finishing the day on a strong note.
That was until Dobbs hit a double off the right field wall with two outs in the ninth and then Wilson Valdez, who has hit one homer in his Major League career, gave the Phils the win—and Hughes the loss—with a walk-off two run shot to deep left.
Hughes struck out six batters and walked no one during his four and one-third innings of work, but he also allowed four runs on three homers.
So where does this leave the Yankees now?
I must sound like a broken record, but I've been saying all spring that Joba should be the No. 5 starter for two reasons.
First, he has by far better career statistics as a member of the rotation. 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 Yanks are just going to stunt his growth again by returning him to the bullpen? Why not just let him start and if he really falters, you can always put him back in the bullpen and replace him with Hughes.
Hughes has never thrown more than 86 innings in a Major League season, so if he were to start the year as the fifth starter, by July, the team would wind up putting the same ridiculous restrictions on him as they did on Chamberlain in 2009.
The time to make a decision is drawing near. I just hope Joe Girardi makes the right one.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org