The Yankees are being very coy about their plans for the fifth spot in the rotation. Currently, it belongs to Phil Hughes, but Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ deposed number two starter, is waiting in the wings. Wang, recovering from some sort of an injury and unsightly 34.50 ERA in 6 innings this year, wants that spot.
Wang last threw on Sunday for AAA Scranton. He arrived in the Bronx on Tuesday to throw a side session in advance of a weekend start somewhere, and before the game, Joe Girardi refused to comment on the Yanks’ rotation. Channeling Linda Richman, Girardi simply said, “We’ll talk amongst ourselves.” He did make it perfectly clear that Hughes’ outing last night would in no way inform the decision.
After the game, speculation seemed to be on Wang’s side. Anthony Rieber anticipated that Hughes will be bound for AAA to rejoin the Scranton rotation and that at some point soon, Wang will make his return to the Bronx. It will not, however, be Friday. The Yanks do not seem enthusiastic about the idea of tossing Wang against a hard-hitting, lefty-dominated Philadelphia Phillies lineup.
So Wang sits in limbo, awaiting word on his fate. If he pitches in AAA on Friday, Phil Hughes will live to pitch another day in the Bronx. If Wang sits out, all bets are off. For the sake of this post,though, let’s assume that Wang will be activated and Hughes sent down within the next five days.
If Hughes is destined to return to the minors, at least for now, how did he do in his 2009 Bronx debut? On the surface, the numbers aren’t pretty. He leaves with a 2-2 record but a 7.06 ERA. He allowed six home runs, has a WHIP of 1.94 and opponents are hitting .326 against him. But his is a small sample of just 21.2 innings, and small samples can be corrupted by even smaller samples.
Take, for instance, Hughes’ start in Baltimore on May 9. There, he lasted just 1.2 innings and was Wangian in his pitching futility. He gave up eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks. He didn’t record a strike out and was nothing like the pitcher who had dominated the Tigers ten days earlier.
If we remove those numbers, though, his season to date doesn’t look too bad. In 20 innings, he has allowed nine earned runs on 21 hits and 11 walks. While the 1.60 WHIP is far too high and the five home runs are a concern, he struck out 19 in 20 innings.
Overall, we saw a lot of inconsistency and inefficiency from Hughes. When he was on, he was nearly dominant, and when he was off, he couldn’t finish off hitters. He threw just 59.6 percent of his pitches for strikes and had trouble both inducing swinging strikes and putting away hitters with two strikes.
However, Hughes is just 22 years old. Just six starters with as many starts as Hughes this year are younger than he is, and for a 22-year-old, a 2-2 record with a 4.05 ERA — as he would have without that Baltimore start — is quite respectable. Right now, we don’t know what Hughes’ ceiling will be, but he can get outs at the Major League level. He will only get better, and if last night’s outing was his last start for now, he went out on a positive note. He has a clear sense of what improvements he must make, and I am encouraged by the young right-hander.