Brian Cashman made one thing clear during his pregame talk yesterday: There is a plan in place for Joba Chamberlain. What exactly that plan entails he wouldn’t say. And why would he? The team’s plans for the 23-year-old righty haven’t changed since Spring Training, and they will not change based on the highs and lows an inexperienced pitcher will inevitably face.
There’s been no shortage of speculation on what the team will do with Joba, now at 95.2 innings, once he nears his limit. Yet no one knows exactly what the Yankees will do. That’s fine. He’ll start until he reaches some predetermined point, and the Yankees will do what they planned to do with him. That won’t stop us from speculating, though.
Before commenting on what they could do, let’s take a look at what Cashman actually said. This comes right from PeteAbe’s pregame audio. Thanks to the sound quality I had to listen three or four times for accuracy. Also, because it sounded like Cashman actually divulged some information.
When asked if the plan is to have Joba in the rotation through the end of the season, Cashman responded “Yes.” He then added, “Well, it depends on how he gets used.” Well, if he’s a starter he’s only going to get used one way. More importantly, when asked if there’s a chance Joba would be shut down at any point, Cashman said no.
From this, I can only infer that Cash misheard the question as, “Will Joba be pitching for the rest of the season?” since he added the “how he gets used” part. Since he won’t be shut down, I can only imagine this means that he’ll return to the bullpen when he hits a certain milestone. While I know some are against this plan and would rather see Joba hit his limit and then shut it down, I have no problem with this plan.
Young pitchers can learn a lot by pitching out of the bullpen. Phil Hughes is a prime example. He struggled as a starter, though we saw flashes of brilliance. Now that he’s in the bullpen he’s attacking hitters and letting loose with his fastball. The hope is that when he returns to the starting rotation, whether that be later this year or in 2010, he takes those lessons with him.
Same with Joba. He clearly has plenty to work on. At times he looks brilliant, and at times he looks lost. He’s learning plenty in the rotation, but it’s best for him to stay with the team throughout the season, work through a whole 162-game schedule, and continue learning his lessons in the bullpen.
What happens to Joba’s rotation spot once he moves to the bullpen? For all we know, the Yankees could acquire a starter between now and then, but I think Phil Hughes is as obvious an answer as any. Once Joba’s nearing the end of the starter portion of his season, Hughes could shadow him, stretching himself out. Hopefully it would take only two starts (because it’s really a waste of a roster spot), and then the transition is complete. Joba is in the pen, Hughes is in the rotation.
This isn’t necessarily what the Yankees will do, but based on Cashman’s comments yesterday, it sounds like a strong possibility. It would also make sense. The Yankees have two young pitchers whose innings need managing. The Hughes-Joba swap seems to work for both parties.