This week, the race for the Yankees' fifth starter spot finally ended.
In what started out as a five man race, ended up having one clear winner for the job.
Phil Hughes won the fifth and final starting job for the 2010 season and will be in the rotation with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javier Vazquez.
Some of the pitchers Hughes beat out were Chad Gaudin, who the Yankees traded for last August with the Padres and pitched exceptionally down the stretch, was waived and released by the Yankees this week. I'm sure teams will try to pick up Gaudin as an extra starter for this season.
Another one was Alfredo Aceves, who will probably end up working out of the bullpen for the Yankees. From the bullpen, Aceves went 10-1 with a 3.24 ERA in 2009.
There was also Sergio Mitre, who wasn't impressive with the Yankees in 2009, especially his 6.79 ERA. He's pitched well in spring training for the Yankees, but they could send him down to the minors or try and trade him to a team in need of a pitcher.
The final person was who Hughes was really in competition with, Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain was the fifth starter in 2009 and he had his ups and downs in the season. He went 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA, struggled with control, high pitch counts, and going periods of time without a win. At times, it looked like Joba didn't have the confidence to be a starting pitcher, looking confused and frazzled on the mound.
In one of my previous stories, I had written that Joba needs to be put in the bullpen for good, and now it seems like he has, which is I feel, the right move to make.
Get Joba his hard-throwing, glove-popping fastball back. Better yet, let's get Joba's confidence back. The confidence for him to fist pump after an important eighth inning strike out and fire up the Yankee Stadium crowd.
Mariano Rivera has his set-up man back, and in the end, it's the right move.
With Joba in the pen, Hughes is the guy now. It's his turn to shine in the rotation.
In 2007, the Yankees called up Hughes in early April to let him learn how to be a starter in the majors. He was doing extremely well, throwing a no-hitter in his second game against the Texas Rangers before sustaining a freak hamstring injury while throwing a curveball (to Mark Teixeira) sidelined Hughes until the end of the season.
His return came in late August—at the right time—especially when Roger Clemens got hurt in Game Three of the ALDS against the Indians; Hughes pitched masterfully in relief of the Rocket.
In 2008, Hughes was given another chance to start, but he was pitching terribly. Turns out it was because he was injured with a strained oblique and a cracked rib. It was also proven that Hughes was near-sided and needed to wear corrective eye wear to see better on the field.
Hughes eventually returned to the Yankees at the end of the 2008 season.
In 2009, Hughes started out in Triple-A but was called up in April because Chien-Ming Wang went down with injuries. After Wang returned from injury, instead of being sent back to the minors, Hughes was put into a bullpen that was depleted.
All of a sudden, Hughes had an overpowering fastball that hitters couldn't touch. Now, he was Rivera's set-up man and Joe Girardi wasn't taking Hughes out of the eighth inning spot. For the rest of the season, Hughes was Mariano's set-up man.
Hughes finished 2009 with an 8-3 record and a 3.03 ERA, striking out 96 in just 86 innings pitched.
He did, however, struggle in the postseason, which saw Joba and Damaso Marte take over the set-up man role. Because of his struggles, it resumed the talk of where Hughes really belonged.
Now, in 2010, Hughes is where he is supposed to be. He was groomed to be a starter. At one time, he was the Yankees top coveted prospect in the farm system and was actually the Yankees first-round draft pick of 2004 that they got from the Astros when Pettitte signed with Houston that season.
Hughes has never pitched a full season in the majors. He's either been injured or moved to another spot. Some were more for Joba pitching as the fifth starter, but Girardi didn't see it that way.
Maybe long-term, the Yankees see Joba as the successor to Mariano and can begin grooming him as the closer. Joba will be sitting in the same bullpen with Rivera every night; Rivera can teach him everything he knows and help Joba become an even better pitcher.
Hughes will also be in good company, considering he's got four great starters he can learn from and work with. If anything, having a veteran like Pettitte to guide and teach him is the best thing for him. Pettitte can teach him not to just be a flame thrower, but a pitcher who thinks and uses his tools and pitches to get people out.
If anything, Hughes can also take the advice given to A.J. Burnett from Roy Halladay in Toronto and use what Burnett was given. It certainly has helped Burnett as he gets older.
This year is Hughes' time to shine. We have been waiting to see what he will do long-term for the Yankees. It's almost like what the Red Sox is waiting to see with Clay Buchholz. We all know the talent is there, we're just waiting for it to be all put together.
My advice for Hughes is to relax, go out, and pitch your game. You have the tools, the confidence and now, the starting job. And don't forget to mix in your pitches, throw strikes, and get people out, which is the most important thing, aside from the win total.
You have a great team filled with veterans, All-stars and MVP-caliber players pitching behind you.
Hughes' time to shine in pinstripes is now. Barring any setbacks or injuries, let's see the pitcher Yankee Nation kept hearing about for years.