During the post-game interviews after the Yanks’ disappointing loss to Seattle on Sunday afternoon, Joba Chamberlain offered up his own assessment of his sub-par start. It wasn’t quite what the rabid New York media and judgmental Yankee fans wanted to hear, and it reminded many of some brash statements Ian Kennedy made during early 2008.
“My delivery was great,” he said. “I threw some great changeups. My slider velocity was great. My fastball velocity was more consistent.”
Nothing that Joba said there was a lie. As Steve S. as The Yankee Universe wrote nearly two weeks ago, Joba’s fastball velocity is right where it should be based on his scouting reports, and Sunday’s start was no exception. Joba flashed a decent fastball and a biting slider. What he did not do was control his pitches or take any responsibility for his bad spate of starts.
As reporters continued to pepper him with questions about his confidence and his health, Joba continued to sound calm, restrained and focus. “It’s going to take a lot more than this to get my confidence level down, I’ll tell you that much,” he said. “You can kick me as much as you want but I’m going to come back fighting every time. That’s how I live this live and that’s how I play this game of baseball.”
Joe Girardi, meanwhile, during his post-game interviews, seemed more guarded in his assessment of Joba’s start. Noting that Chamberlain had no control on Sunday, he talked about how Joba’s final two tune-ups — or auditions — are going to weight on the Yanks’ October choices. “His next start is important,” Girardi said. “It’s real important and we have to get him throwing the baseball the way he can.”
When asked if Joba had a lock on a post-season start, Girardi all but guaranteed it. “He’s one of the guys who have gotten us to that point, and we’ll continue to go with Joba,” he said, “for now.” With that final “for now,” Girardi was clearing hedging his bets.
With just 12 games remaining this year, the Yankees are running out of time to play with their pitching rotation. They need to get A.J. Burnett his starts for consistency’s sake. They want get CC Sabathia a shot as his 20th win. Andy Pettitte has to demonstrate that his shoulder is healthy. Joba Chamberlain has to get himself sorted out.
But what if the Yankees decided to give the fourth starter spot in October to someone else? Joba Chamberlain has never thrown this many innings, and the physical toll of this season could be responsible for this inconsistencies more than media attention or the Yanks’ plans are. Furthermore, the Yanks have won in October with Kenny Rogers and Denny Neagle in that spot. They don’t need an ace there.
The most obvious candidate is Chad Gaudin. Currently, the Yanks’ fifth starter, Gaudin will make two more starts as well this year. As a Yankee, Gaudin has thrown 29.1 innings with an ERA of 3.68. He has allowed 30 hits while walking 16 and striking out 24. His WHIP is a bit higher than we would prefer, but the Yankees are 4-0 in his starts. He gets the job done.
After Gaudin comes Alfredo Aceves. The Mexican Gangster has been a long-relief specialist for the Yankees. Shadowing Joba for much of the last few weeks, he hasn’t thrown since Sept. 14. He figures to be on alert should Andy Pettitte’s shoulder give out against the Angels tonight. He has generally stellar numbers and could make a start in a pinch.
The darkhorse candidate is Ian Kennedy. Prior to coming down with an aneurysm, Kennedy was 1-0 in four AAA starts in April. Over 22.2 innings, he had allowed just four earned runs (1.59 ERA) on 18 hits and 7 walks with 25 strike outs. He would have been given a shot this summer had he not been injured. After his injury, he came back and threw five scoreless innings over two Minor League playoff starts. If Kennedy gets a shot to pitch in the Bronx and does well, he could very well emerge as an October option. He’s due to pitch in the Arizona Fall League as the ALDS starts, and the Yanks could use his innings in a potential ALCS series instead.
Also on the team are Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre and Josh Towers. Neither Mitre nor Towers is the answer, and while we salivate at the prospects of Phil Hughes starting, the Yankees need him in the pen. He can’t be stretched out right now, and his value in October will rest with his 8th inning appearances.
In the end, the Yankees’ fourth starter position for the playoffs is Joba’s to lose, and he might just lose it. It’s hard to see the Yanks calling on him from the pen in the ALDS. He may end up off the roster in the first round and marginalized in the ALCS if the Yanks get there. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Joba or the Yankees.