Hank sticking with Yanks' plan for Joba
Co-chair prefers righty in rotation soon; won't expedite process
NEW YORK -- While Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have had their growing pains, Joba Chamberlain has watched from the Yankees' bullpen, lined up to help get the ball to closer Mariano Rivera.
Hank Steinbrenner has also been looking on, and it's a setup that the Yankees' co-chairman would prefer to see change. After stating in an earlier interview that he wanted Chamberlain as a starter as soon as possible, Steinbrenner tempered his stance to the New York Daily News, telling the newspaper that he is willing to stick with the team's plan of putting the right-hander in the rotation later in the year.
"It's all of our intention to try to get him back into the rotation by the end of the year," Steinbrenner told the Daily News. "I've addressed it many times, as did Joe [Girardi] and [GM Brian] Cashman. I'm just saying it would be nice to have him there right now. He's going to be great anywhere we have him but, my preference is as a starter and that's everybody else's preference, too.
"You see what a premium starting pitching is. The bullpen is important, but starting pitching is 70 percent of it. Your bullpen can't do you any good if you're down by five runs quickly every night. It's logical."
In an interview with The New York Times conducted late Sunday, Steinbrenner said that the Yankees needed Chamberlain in their rotation now.
"I want him as a starter and so does everyone else, including him, and that is what we are working toward and we need him there now," Steinbrenner told the newspaper. "There is no question about it, you don't have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a setup guy. You just don't do that. You have to be an idiot to do that."
Cashman responded to Steinbrenner's earlier comments, telling Newsday that no changes are in store for the time being.
"Joba's staying in the bullpen right now," Cashman said. "That's where we're at. [Putting him in the rotation is] not something that's going to happen here early on, and [Hank] knows that. We've talked about it. I don't know what set him off."
Following Sunday's victory at Baltimore, the Yankees are a break-even 10-10, 3 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Red Sox, who won on Monday, and 1 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Rays. Chamberlain, 22, has said that he is fine with doing whatever the team asks of him.
If the Yankees are to move Chamberlain back into the rotation, it would likely include a Minor League assignment to stretch his innings count back up, though he spent most of Spring Training preparing as a starter. Steinbrenner took issue with how the Yankees handled Chamberlain's situation in 2007.
"The mistake was already made last year switching him to the bullpen out of panic or whatever," Steinbrenner told the Times. "I had no say in it last year and I wouldn't have allowed it. That was done last year, so now we have to catch up. It has to be done on a schedule so we don't rush him."
Chamberlain missed five games last week to attend to his ailing father, Harlan, in a Nebraska hospital, but rejoined the club on Saturday in Baltimore with his father's condition improving. Through six appearances, he is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA, striking out eight and walking two in 6 1/3 innings.
At the same time, Hughes and Kennedy -- the organization's other lauded parts of the "Big Three" -- have struggled. Both took losses over the weekend at Baltimore; Hughes is 0-3 with an 8.82 ERA in four starts, while Kennedy is 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA in four games (three starts).
"I think once Hughes and Kennedy get plenty of starts and get Joba back, and with [Chien-Ming] Wang and [Andy] Pettitte, we will be fine," Steinbrenner told The Times.
That short list excluded 39-year-old right-hander Mike Mussina, who is 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA through four starts. Mussina lasted just three innings in a five-run, seven-hit outing against the Red Sox on Wednesday in New York, and Steinbrenner had a suggestion for the veteran.
"[Mussina] just needs to learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer," Steinbrenner told The Times, hinting that Mussina should stop relying on his fastball for results. Mussina typically now sits in the mid-80s with his fastball, making it quite hittable when he misses his location.
"The starting rotation is not what I would have chosen at the beginning of the year, but that is not a big news flash to anyone."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.