Word of a future ace pitcher broke out of New York Yankees camp during the 2007 spring training. A number of scouting organizations had the kid rated as the number one pitching prospect in all of minor league baseball. The Yankee veterans raved about him with one player even going as far as to mention him in the same breath as Roger Clemens. The pitcher was Philip Hughes and 14 months have passed and Hughes has been given the opportunity to start what he and the Yankees organization hope will be a dominant career at the front of their rotation for at least the next seven to ten years. So far his performance has been disappointing for a guy who Yankees general manager Brian Cashman refused to part with during trade discussions with Minnesota last winter involving the best pitcher in baseball Johan Santana who is now displaying his talents in Queens in a Mets uniform. At 21 years old Hughes is still a baby. But the Yankees leaned heavily on him this season to help them do what they do and make the postseason for what would be the 14th consecutive season. Hughes is now on the disabled list after beginning his season with a 0-4 record while pitching to a 9.00 e.r.a. When Hughes does come back he is no sure thing to pitch any better. That’s why the decision to finally insert 22 year old Joba Chamberlain into the starting rotation had to come now. The decision is two months too late but better now than never.
The Yankees have not had the type of ace that they envision Philip Hughes being since the first go around of Roger Clemens. The type of pitcher who you give the ball to and the entire team feels as if they can win any game against any team at any time. A pitcher who can stop losing streaks and most importantly in the Yankees case dominant a game or two or three in a postseason series. The Yankees biggest problem since they last won a world series in 2000 has been that they have not had a true ace to lean on in the postseason. The club has tried to find that guy over the years with the trade for Randy Johnson and the free agent signing of Carl Pavano which will go down as one of the worse player acquisitions in the franchise’s history. They even threw 18 million dollars at 45 year old pitcher Roger Clemens last season for four months work which turned out to be subpar at best. This season Chien-Ming Wang has looked the part as the number one guy at the top of the rotation, the same way he did last regular season and we all know how he and his sinking fastballs worked out last October when the intensity level turned up a notch.
The Yankees have their ace right in front of their face in Joba Chamberlain, a right handed fire baller from Nebraska who was obscure to the mainstream sports world at this time a year ago. Chamberlain has the type of overpowering fastball and other complementary pitches that you dream of in a shutdown starter. He is the one who will have you thinking that you’re having flashbacks to Roger Clemens of 1986. Chamberlain who was drafted by the Yankees out of the University of Nebraska in the 2006 supplemental draft. He rose quickly through the minor leagues blowing away the opposition as a starter. That’s why all the talk of him possibly having a tough time when he is inserted into the starting rotation this Tuesday is hogwash. Yes, Chamberlain has been amazingly dominant in his role as the setup man to Mariano Rivera. But he is being wasted in that role unless the Yankees think they are going to reinvent the game of baseball. When have you ever heard of a top pitching prospect who has the type of stuff that Chamberlain has becoming a setup man to the closer? It just doesn’t happen. More World Series winning teams have had top of the rotation aces than they’ve had dominant 8th inning setup men. Secondly, the Yankees have made the postseason 13 years in a row, most of which without a setup man anywhere close to the caliber of Chamberlain. The setup men have not been the reason for the Yankees shortcomings in the playoffs. It’s been inconsistent hitting and inconsistent pitching. Pitching always shuts down good hitting. Joba can shutdown a lot of great bats. It’s just too bad that Cashman and company didn’t let go of Philip Hughes during the winter. Then they would have Santana, Joba, and Wang, along with Andy Pettitte leading their pitching rotation. How good do you think their chances of getting out of the first round would have been then?