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The competition rolls on

EVERYONE COMPLAINS ABOUT THE WEATHER…
…But no one ever does anything about it. Phil Hughes may be thinking about that old line today. Thanks to Sunday’s rainout, the competition for the fifth starter’s spot was handicapped in Joba Chamberlain’s favor. With too many pitchers needing innings in too few games, Hughes drew the National League champion Phillies while Chamberlain got an improvised intrasquad game in which he faced such luminaries as Randy Winn, Jamie Hoffmann, and Reid Gorecki. Given that crowd, any performance less than dominance would have been a disappointment. I leave it to your judgment as to whether five innings, seven baserunners, two runs, and just one strikeout is appropriately encouraging. Joba’s lot may be to remain an enigma.

Hughes faced a more representative lineup despite entering the game seemingly four hours after A.J. Burnett labored through the first inning. He gave up three home runs, including a walk-off shot to Wilson Valdez on a curveball that was so hung you could have put it in a frame and exhibited it at the Met. Nonetheless, he did get more than his share of swing-and-misses, striking out six in 4.1 innings (and no walks). Nothing happened today that is likely to close Joe Girardi’s open mind, but the strikeouts have to weigh heavily. Unless you’re talking about some kind of super-groundball guy, which Joba most emphatically is not, you’re not going to be able to count on the at-‘em ball to get you out of trouble most of the time. Much better to bet on the strikeout pitcher.

You can only put so much faith in spring stats -- Sergio Mitre is unlikely to strike out nine batters per nine innings during the regular season -- but given Chamberlain’s struggles in the second half of last season, it is troubling that he’s still underwater on strikeout-to-walk ratio at that stage of Spring Training, even with the gimme-game against the second-stringers. Facing some of the same hitters, Andy Pettitte struck out six. Something about Chamberlain isn’t right, and as the Yankees have other options, it’s time to think about a diminished role until they figure out how to solve the problem.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
The Yankees have returned Rule 5’d outfielder Jamie Hoffmann to the Dodgers. Brian Cashman alone knows what the heck the Yankees were thinking when they arranged with the Nationals to make that selection. The idea itself, getting a shot at the top of the Rule 5 draft list in return for the arbitration-eligible Brian Bruney, was sound, but the selection of Hoffmann was faulty. A 24-year-old with career minor league rates of .283/.355/.401 just isn’t going to play unless he plays defense like some unholy combination of Gary Pettis, prime Andruw Jones, and Joe DiMaggio, and maybe not even then. That the Dodgers chose to chart Hoffmann as a right fielder suggests that his glove wasn’t that special.

The Yankees might have attempted to work out a deal with the Dodgers to retain Hoffmann (and for all we know they did) but they could have just as easily have decided not to bother given the fungible nature of Hoffmann’s skills. There is nothing of value a team would or should part with to retain a Hoffmann.

Hoffmann was probably doomed from the moment Marcus Thames was signed, because Thames’ track record speaks for itself, whereas Hoffmann would have to prove himself. In the event, neither player hit, but it’s easier to dream on Thames finding his stroke than it is Hoffmann becoming a Major League hitter.

It’s a shame the Yankees couldn’t find a more likely prospect, or failing that, a possible LOOGY, which may be the one kind of pitcher who might fall out of a tree and land in your lap, so limited is what they are asked to do. Again, the Yankees had the right idea but the wrong execution. Let’s hope they get to try it again sometime.

OBSERVATION FROM TODAY’S GAME
Jayson Werth looks like a Wookie. A derelict Wookie. Unlike Johnny Damon’s caveman period, it’s not a welcoming look. He could pass for an extra on "Cannibal Vampire Hermits" (forthcoming reality show set in New Jersey).

JOE MAUER SIGNED FOREVER
So much for him becoming Posada’s heir, a development which is bad for the Yankees but good for the game given that Mauer is Minnesota born and raised. The whole "rooting for the laundry" thing is overblown, but every once in awhile it is reassuring to see a player leave some coin on the table in order to stay home with Vic, Sade, Rush, and Uncle Fletcher. Meanwhile, the Yankees have enough prospective catchers that they should be able to move on from Posada when the time comes without suffering too badly. There are two questions that need positive answers right now if they are to continue to get above-average production from the position:

1. Can Jesus Montero catch for a living? (Probably not.)
2. Can Austin Romine replace the X in .250/X/.450 with an on-base percentage of .330 instead of .300? (Probably not?)

Stay tuned. In the meantime, just as you enjoy every last appearance by your likely Hall of Fame shortstop and Hall of Fame closer, enjoy the sunset days of your likely Hall of Fame catcher…

MORE FROM ME

The Washington Times blog write-up of my visit to Washington, DC. Just found out it was there. Sounds like I had a good time…

Wholesome Reading has been wholesomely updated with more to come. Warning: politics!