Joba working to iron out wrinkles
Righty eager to improve; Hughes continues to try changeup
LAKELAND, Fla. -- For the Yankees' brass, it's apparent that numbers at this point in Spring Training don't matter.
The competition between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes for the fifth spot in New York's starting rotation could have taken a turn for the worse for Chamberlain after his performance in Wednesday's 9-8 win over the Tigers, but manager Joe Girardi clearly has a plan in place for the two pitchers.
Chamberlain's Spring Training ERA sits at 27.00 after he gave up six runs on five hits and three walks over 2 1/3 innings on Wednesday, but Hughes stepped in and allowed a solo home run among three hits, striking out two and walking none over 2 2/3 innings.
"You can't get so caught up in stats," Girardi said. "It's not fair to them if we ask them to work on certain things and then everyone immediately looks at the stats. There are things we ask guys to do in Spring Training, and we've asked each of these guys to work on them each time out."
Girardi understands that each starter needs to improve on his command from a previous appearance.
"What we're looking at is if the command is there early, and then we see how it is toward the end of his appearance," Girardi said. "You want to see them have command through 50 pitches the next time out."
Yankees management wants Chamberlain to improve at pitching inside with his fastball, as well as maintaining his command over the course of an appearance.
On Wednesday, Chamberlain began his start fairly well. Although he tossed 19 pitches in the first inning, the right-hander struck out former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson looking on an inside fastball, then he walked Ryan Raburn and got Ryan Strieby and Miguel Cabrera on flyouts.
Chamberlain was even more effective in the second inning, tossing just eight pitches and allowing nothing more than a broken-bat single to Jeff Larish.
In the third inning, though, the Tigers got to Chamberlain. After inducing Adam Everett to fly out to start the inning, the hard-throwing righty allowed back-to-back singles, a walk, a run-scoring single, another walk and then a grand slam to Gerald Laird that put an end to his start.
Chamberlain finished with 48 pitches, 27 of which were strikes. Chamberlain -- and Girardi, to a certain extent -- came away pleased, however.
"I just got a little tired," Chamberlain said. "I made the adjustments from the first inning to the second inning on my slider, which was good. The delivery wasn't great in the first inning, but then we worked things out, and I wasn't leaving sliders and some cement mixers out there like before.
"Obviously, it's Spring Training and you're going to look at what happened, but it's about working on the little things and getting them better."
Girardi, for the most part, was pleased with Chamberlain's performance but noted the importance of the right-hander finding improvement with each Grapefruit League start.
"He didn't get the fastball inside enough on righties today," Girardi said. "Those are the type of things we're asking particular guys to do in Spring Training. He clearly ran out of gas and made some mistakes. He got Jackson out in the first inning by going inside, but he didn't get it in to a lot of the other guys."
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Chamberlain and Girardi both stated that the right-hander's next bullpen session will help to correct things.
Hughes, who threw 33 pitches, 22 of which were strikes, is being asked to master his changeup over the course of Spring Training.
Hughes tossed 10 changeups during Wednesday's outing, including two of them for balls just before he threw a 3-2 fastball to Raburn, who smacked it over the left-field wall.
"I have to get the changeup down," Hughes said. "I'm looking to have better results in the season, but now, I have to work on things gradually. I feel like there's a proper pitch for every scenario. I want to it to be successful during the season and have it as a useful pitch."
While Girardi voiced no concern over either pitcher's performance, he did sound more optimistic with Hughes' development of the changeup.
"His changeup was better [than in his last appearance]," Girardi said. "I thought he threw it well."
Although Girardi cited fatigue as a typical ingredient during a starter's development in the early parts of Spring Training, the manager did stress the urgency of the competition as the Yankees draw closer to the start of the regular season.
"At times, it's uncharted waters for some pitchers, and physically, they're not there yet," Girardi said. "But we're going to have to start making evaluations for the course of the season soon, and we have six weeks to do it."
Chamberlain and Hughes know that, too.
"There's no panic button, but sure, there's definitely a sense of urgency," Chamberlain said. "It matters every time I go out how I do, but I'm going to take every negative and turn it in to a positive. But I can't worry about what anybody else did. I have to worry about getting better and concentrating on what I have to do well to help the team."
Likewise, Hughes expressed a desire to improve as a motivating factor in the competition.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself from Day 1," Hughes said. "I feel the pressure I put on myself far outweighs any pressure against someone else. Of course, I want him to do well because he's a teammate of mine, but I feel like if I pitch to the best of my ability, then that's all I can ask of myself."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.