When Javier Vazquez makes his first start of the season for the Yanks in April, it could very well be against the last team he faced in the Bronx. If the Yankees fit him into the third slot in the rotation, he will pitch against the Red Sox in Boston on April 7. More likely than not, though, the Yankees will give the ball to Andy Pettitte for that start, and Vazquez will pitch against the Rays in Tampa Bay over the weekend.
For Yankee fans, just the idea of Javier Vazquez and the Red Sox is enough to give us nightmares. While not the losing pitcher in Game 7 of the ALCS, Vazquez was on the mound when Johnny Damon hit a grand slam that effectively nailed shut the coffin on the Yankees that year. A few weeks later, Vazquez was unceremoniously dumped on Arizona for an aging Randy Johnson. Unfairly or not, Vazquez took the fall for a team-wide collapse and has since been demonized in the minds of Yankee fans since then.
What we forget though is Javier Vazquez’s All Star-worthy first half of 2004. Through his first 18 starts, Vazquez went 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA. He struck out 81 in 104.2 innings and sported a 3.12 K/BB ratio. In the second half, though, everything fell apart for the right-hander. He went 5-6 with a 5.79 ERA and found himself pitching in relief in the playoffs. He got the Game 3 win in Boston but was hardly stellar in the Yanks’ 19-8 trouncing of the Red Sox.
After that playoff series, Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and cash went west while Randy Johnson came East, and Vazquez has since flourished into what he was before the Bronx: a durable strike-out pitcher who can give a team quality innings from the middle of the rotation. He earned himself some Cy Young votes over the last few years and pitched well in the AL Central and NL East. In his 162 starts over four years, he has a 4.09 ERA and a 110 ERA+. He has struck out 1027 in 1062.2 innings while walking just 257 for a fantastic 4.00 K/BB ratio.
Vazquez won’t have an easy go of it with the fans at first in the Bronx. He’s going to have to earn his stripes again and push away the memories of a bad second half. Rumors of shoulder problems swirled around him in 2004, but those rumblings have been dispelled. He simply could not get his mechanics in line for a handful of starts during the second half of the season.
The Yanks never wanted to and probably should never have traded Vazquez, and now Javy and the Yankees get a second chance. Hopefully, it will end on a better note than Vazquez’s last pinstriped appearance. He won’t be expected to front the staff and will face far less pressure to deliver for the World Series champs. With this trade, either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes will spend at least part of the season as a reliever, and the Yanks rotation and bullpen are stronger because of it. And so as the AL arms race continues, Javier Vazquez will reenter the fray.