Before the game Wednesday night, before Joe Girardi dropped the Joba Chamberlain bombshell and the Yankee hitters heeded his clarion call to get their collective act together, the manager assembled his struggling, underperforming $209 million troops onto the field, not for a team meeting but rather for the official 2008 team picture. This, in turn, prompted one Yankee underling to observe with gallows humor: "Geez, I can't believe they're doing this in May. By August, there'll be 20 new guys here and they'll have to take a whole new picture."
While that might be considered a bit of an exaggeration, history tells us there is little tolerance for losing at Steinbrenner U., and, if nothing else, the Yankee rotation now figures to have a vastly different look from the one that began the season with such high hopes for the No.1 draft pick whiz kids, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. In announcing that the two innings of 35-pitch work in relief of Darrell Rasner Wednesday night was the starting point for moving Chamberlain into the starting rotation, Girardi insisted this was the plan all along. And maybe it was purely coincidental that it should have come at a time when the Yankees were in the throes of a horrendous stretch that had the owner's son getting increasingly gabby in threatening tones, but it does seem like a huge risk they are taking here - not so much for Chamberlain but for the season.
"We're sticking with the program we've had in place for some time," said GM Brian Cashman. "We've come to the general area of the schedule where we decided we had to start stretching him out."
So basically what is happening here is that the Yankees, in last place, are embarking on an experiment in which one of their biggest weapons - Chamberlain setting up Mariano Rivera - is being removed from that role to pitch longer and longer relief, most likely in blowout games such as Wednesday night's when Rasner, treated to eight runs by the previously stagnant Yankee hitters, pitched seven innings of five-hit shutout ball against the Baltimore Orioles.
And who would have thought it back in March, when everyone was wondering where the innings were going to come from in a rotation that featured two kids on pitch counts and a No.3 starter, Mike Mussina, who seldom pitched into the seventh?
The 27-year-old Rasner wasn't even on the 40-man roster, which meant he was not held in the same regard as Chase Wright, Steven White or Jeff Karstens, much less Hughes or Kennedy. It also means he was available to anyone who wanted him for a mere $100,000 in last December's Rule 5 draft. But there he was Wednesday night, stepping into the role of slump-stopper that Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte could not fulfill before him, and with three wins in three starts he's certainly surpassed the great expectations held for Hughes and Kennedy and perhaps given the Yankees further incentive to proceed with caution with the Chamberlain experiment.
Nevertheless, removing him from the pressure innings for what figures to be at least five to six weeks, and turning those innings over to Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins, is likely to be greeted with silent cheers from the rest of the American League.
"We didn't start with the expectations that we might have to pull the plug," said Cashman. "We started with the expectations that this will help us in the long run."
You could also probably say Cashman didn't start the season with any expectations for Rasner. But until further notice, Rasner has staked a claim on at least one spot in the rotation for which Chamberlain is being groomed. Kennedy, who right now holds the fifth spot, gets another chance tonight to live up to the expectations Cashman still holds for him. But if he is able to get to the seventh inning, he needn't look over his shoulder to see if Chamberlain is warming up. He won't be.
Nevertheless, Kennedy would be advised not to lose sight of Chamberlain and what is going on around him. At Steinbrenner U., when things are going bad, changes are always in the offing. Check the team picture in August.
Source: NY Dayly News