There was one issue for the New York Yankees headed to Tampa, Fla., for spring training: Who would be the No. 5 starter?
Yes, Joe Girardi has had to deal with whether to start Curtis Granderson in center or left and how reconstruct the lineup after the departures of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera and additions of Granderson and Nick Johnson in the offseason. But those were relatively minor issues. The Yankees' lineup is still formidable and the defense is improved no matter how Girardi puts it all together.
With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez solidifying the first four spots in the rotation, the Yankees and Girardi had one big question to figure out: Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes?
Yes, Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre were included in the "competition," but did anyone believe they were legitimate candidates? I certainly didn't, and I would be shocked if one of them ended up in the rotation, despite their strong springs.
This was about Joba vs. Hughes ... and Joba seemed to be the guy with the leg up entering the training camp.
The 27-time World Champions (I'm going to love tying that all season -- if for no reason other than to annoy Dave) spent the last two years babying Chamberlain, adhering strict to pitch counts, setting innings limits. It was all done to protected the prize, fire-balling righthander while carefully building his arm strength.
All of it was done to get to this point. This was supposed to be Joba's year to prove the Yankees' scouts right. All the limits, the Joba Rules were out the window. Joba was free.
All along in the Great Joba Debate, I've said we need to wait and see what Chamberlain is. Yes, we knew he could be a great reliever, but that didn't preclude him from also being a great starter. Joba needed to be developed and then he needed to go out and get the job done.
This was the spring Joba was supposed to show us what he's got.
Instead, he hasn't shown us much of anything.
Chamberlain has thrown the ball better of late, but by all accounts, Hughes has been better, taking control in the battle for the fifth spot, according to the Daily News' Mark Feinsand.
Hughes has spent the spring working on his changeup, giving him four major-league caliber pitches. And while Hughes did serve up three homers in Monday's outing, both he and Girardi were pleased with the way he was throwing.
Girardi is nearing the point when he's going to have to make decision, possibly as early as Thursday. For now, the manager is not ruling anything out, including sending both Hughes and Joba to the bullpen or even sending one to the minors.
But if Girardi does not go with Joba, then Joba will have only himself to blame. Given the opportunity to prove that he deserves to be in the rotation, Joba has thrown to a 16.20 ERA -- bloated even by spring training standards to say the least. He has failed to seize the prize before him. There are no more excuses.
It's looking likely that Joba's future is destined for the bullpen. It's time to end the debate.