Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Sign of What's to Come...

Last night, the Yankees' new direction for Joba Chamberlain began. The once heralded minor league starter, transformed bullpen prodigy, returned back to his role as a starter, taking the mound against Toronto. The reason for this change can be summed up in one word: impatience. When the Yankees got off to a sluggish start this year, Hank Steinbrenner became restless. He even went as far as to criticize the team and manager's intellect for leaving the team's hardest thrower in the bullpen. But why not? The most effective setup men and closers in the league tend to be the hardest throwing pitchers on their respective teams. That's the type of pitcher you need to shut the door at the end of a game. What a luxury it is to know that if you get to the 7th inning with a lead, you've pretty much locked up a win. But for some reason Steinbrenner refused to see this, demanding Chamberlain be moved to the starting rotation.

Well, Steinbrenner got his wish and got a taste of what it would bring last night. With it known that Joba would only be throwing 65-70 pitches last night, the Blue Jays went up to the plate as very patient hitters. A wild Chamberlain did more than they could ever ask from him, throwing 38 pitches in the first inning (more than half of his limited pitch count for the game). Chamberlain walked three batters in the first inning, gave up one hit, and allowed one run. Girardi even admitted after the game that Chamberlain was one batter away from being pulled from the game in just the first inning. Some start, huh? After settling down Chamberlain would walk one more batter and give up another unearned run in just 2 1/3 innings of work. Hardly the 5 to 6 innings he had anticipated going. With his early exit, Chamberlain handed the ball over to his usual bench-side buddies, the bullpen. Without Chamberlain, the bullpen pitched 6 2/3 innings allowing 7 runs on 11 hits, walking 6 while only striking out 4. This coming a night after Joba's replacement as the setup man, Kyle Farnsworth, set the Minnesota Twins up with a nice victory, allowing the game-winning run on 3 hits and a walk in just one inning of work.

Chamberlain could settle into being a starter. He also could become an ace in the Yankees rotation. But the key word is could. This decision could be worthwhile for the Yankees, but there is no guarantee. The way I see it is. Even if Chamberlain is an effective starter for the Yankees, I still see it as doing more harm than help for the team. Ozzie Guillen said it best saying he was relieved he only had to face Joba once every five days instead of every night. I tend to agree with him. But when will Steinbrenner? Maybe he'll realize his mistake when the Yankees need one or two innings of dominant pitching to protect a tight lead before Rivera can end the game, and sees Girardi has no one to turn to, but an underachieving bullpen. How many blown leads do Farnsworth and Hawkins have to surrender to make Steinbrenner realize the move does more harm than good? It all comes down to impatience and ignorance. Two qualities Steinbrenner seems to have. Two qualities that could potentially have a very ill-effect on the Yankees postseason hopes.

The Yankees starting pitching wasn't great, but it wasn't that bad. The lineup was starting to turn around and players were coming back from the DL. It wasn't a time to panic. The Yankees were off to a better start than their 19-27 performance last year, and it seemed like their bats were starting to get hot, just like they had at around the same time last year. A bullpen is just as valuable as a starting rotation. I think Steinbrenner will sadly see this in the near future.

I still remember the days when Rivera used to set up Wetteland. If the Yankees had a lead going into the 7th it was over; a done deal. Even with a much weaker lineup back then, the Yankees still would win. With that combination, the Yankees won the World Series in 1996 against the defending champion Braves. Then when it was time for Wetteland to throw in the towel, the Yankees were left with the perfect candidate for the new closing role: Rivera. Where did that lead? It led to three more World Series championships and left the Yankees with the greatest closer in playoff history.

But now, blessed with a remarkably similar situation at the end of Rivera's career, Steinbrenner and the Yanks are taking a different route. Why? It just doesn't make sense. The only reason I can come up with is impatience and ignorance on Steinbrenner's part. If Steinbrenner doesn't see his mistake soon, I could see the Yankees falling short of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. As a die-hard Yankee fan, it would be a travesty to witness this.

Chamberlain is a pitcher that feeds off emotion. Emotion he could easily find when every pitch he threw could mean the difference between a win or a loss as a reliever. He also seemed to rejuvenate Rivera as well. Mariano hasn't pitched this well in years. But Steinbrenner seems to feel comfortable with making a change. A change that could affect the emotion these two valuable players perform with. Now, the chapter has officially begun for the Yankees with Chamberlain as a starter. So far...they are 0-1.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

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