Why We Owe Yankees an Apology on Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain
I don't like admitting that I'm wrong.
I put admission of error somewhere between getting a Novocaine-free root canal and being the Jim J. Bullock center square of a human centipede.
Wednesday night against the Tigers was another big night for the farm system's golden boys. Hughes was brilliant over seven shutout innings, and Chamberlain was throwing gas in the eighth for another scoreless inning of relief.
Hughes is now 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA, and is suddenly a legitimate ace counterpart to CC Sabathia. Chamberlain, meanwhile, has a 2.30 ERA and hasn't allowed a run in his last seven appearances, effectively filling the eighth-inning role that Hughes thrived in last season.
Much has been made of how the Yankees handled both young pitchers.
Some argued that the team asked for too much, too soon from Hughes, who was the second youngest player in the American League when he was called up in April 2007.
Hughes battled injury and vision issues his first two seasons in the Bronx, leading many fans to believe the right-hander was heading down Brien Taylor Boulevard, the one-way thoroughfare for all-hype, no-results prospects.
Fans were even more frustrated when GM Brian Cashman refused to part with Hughes in a trade that would bring Johan Santana from the Twins in December 2007. The idea of a Yankees organization that didn't sacrifice prospects for established veterans was completely foreign to a fanbase weened on 30 years of Steinbrenner rule.
Chamberlain has been an even bigger lightning rod of controversy. He came out of nowhere in August 2007, becoming a phenomenon with his blazing fastball, sharp slider and animated strikeout celebrations.
Despite his fantastic (non-midge related) success out of the bullpen, the Yankees were intent on giving Chamberlain an opportunity as a starter. They looked at the beefy kid from Nebraska and had visions of a young Roger Clemens under their control for seven years.
Unfortunately, it just didn't take. The "Joba Rules"—first instituted in '07 to keep Joe Torre from Proctor-ing the young prospect's arm—was deemed the culprit when Chamberlain wasn't immediately the same intimidator as a starter as he was out of the bullpen.
But by 2009, it started to become clear that it wasn't the Joba Rules that were holding Chamberlain back, but his own mind-set. He struggled to find consistency as a starter, unable to find his top velocity, and unable to control the pace of the game. By the time the postseason rolled around, Chamberlain was back in the 'pen.
The Yankees gave Chamberlain one last shot as a starter in spring training, essentially pitting him against Hughes for the fifth spot in the rotation. It was a no-contest. Chamberlain seemed disinterested in the battle, and Hughes won nearly by default.
That brings us to today. Hughes and Chamberlain are both Yankees, they're both healthy, and they're both succeeding in the roles they were meant to be in. Hughes, the starter and ace-in-training, Chamberlain the reliever and closer-in-training.
There's a parallel universe where Hughes the Minnesota Twin is shutting down the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2010 ALDS and Chamberlain is sitting in the waiting room of Dr. James Andrews with an icepack on his shoulder.
Thankfully, the two young right-handers took the fork down a different path. And while you can argue that the organization took a circuitous route to get to the right place, you can't deny they got there in the end.
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