Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Taylor Made

The future of the Yankees pitching staff came and went last night. Phillip Hughes pitched 6-1/3 innings of no-hit ball last night before leaving the game with an injury. He said that he felt something pop in his leg after snapping off a curveball on an 0-2 count to Hank Blaylock. The odds were certainly against him completing a no-hitter, but he certainly looked a lot better than he did in his first major league start. His curveball was sharp, he spotted his fastball well and his change up was very effective. It was more than enough to wet the appetite of every Yankee fan. I'm not sure that he looked like the second coming of Roger Clemens, but he was certainly doing a good impression of Mark Prior in his pre-injury days. And then his world came tumbling down as his leg buckled after his 83rd pitch of the night.

The Hughes injury means that five pitchers on the starting staff has now been on the DL this season. Three of them (Wang, Mussina and Hughes) have been hamstring related injuries. Jeff Karsten's has a broken leg and Carl Pavano has some mystery injury that has prevented him from pitching even though the Yankees can't find anything structurally wrong with his arm. Kei Igawa and Andy Pettite have been the only starters to avoid the injury bug so far but Igawas has been extremely inconsistent. He has thrown well in two appearances and has been pretty awful in a couple of others. In fact he had lost his place in the starting rotation until injuries forced him back in. He pitched well against the Red Sox on Saturday, but it remains to be seen whether he can have two good performances in a row. Pettitie has looked very good with the exception of his last start.

A couple of weeks ago I said that the Yankees new strength and conditioning coach should get his resume ready if there was another major injury. Hopefully he took my advice and has started lining up other jobs. The questions about the Yankees conditioning are starting to get a little more pointed at this point and given the Yankees poor start and mounting injuries, I'm expecting the Boss to make an example of somebody very soon. He has already given the dreaded "vote of confidence" to both Torre and Cashman, so apparently they are safe for the time being. You know I almost miss the days of the old boss when he would fly off the handle and fire a manager after the first month of the season. I'm sure if Billy Martin were still alive he'd be getting ready for his 10th term as Yankees manager.

I know that I had less than high hopes for Phillip Hughes, but after seeing last night's performance, I couldn't help but get caught up in the moment. It was really exciting to see someone with that kind of advance billing actually living up to it. I'm sure somewhere Brien Taylor was kicking himself. I wish I could have been there to kick him as well. In case you don't know, Taylor was a the #1 pick of the entire draft in 1991. He signed right out of high school and was supposed to be the second coming of Doc Gooden. The Yankees were not a good team in those days and Taylor was supposed to be the cornerstone of the next Yankees dynasty. It never happened. He ended up hurting his pitching shoulder in a bar fight and never made it past double A. He is one of only two overall #1 picks who never made it to the majors. Taylor stands as the poster boy for all that can go wrong with can't-miss prospects. I've been suspect of Yankee pitching phenoms since then. Right after Doc Gooden became a star for the Mets at 19, the Yankees rushed Jose Rijo to the majors in hopes of duplicating that success. Jose was not very good at 19 and in fact would not be a major contributor to a pitching staff until he was 23. But by that point he was long gone from the Yankees. I won't go through the list of disappointing pitching prospects again, but it is long and undistinguished.

Watching Phillip Hughes pitch last night had started to wash away all those bad memories from the past. I was starting to believe that the Yankees had indeed found the "next big thing" in baseball. I was starting to believe that he could develop into the foundation of the pitching staff for the next ten years. And then he got hurt. He will be back in NY for an MRI on Friday and until then they are saying that it's only a hamstring problem and that he should be back in 4-6 weeks. We shall see. I'm hate to be pessimistic but I've seen this all before and it never ends well. I guess I could be wrong this time. I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope that Hughes can make it back and be just as good as he was last night. However, If he does turn out to be just another failed Yankee pitching prospect, he can at least be somewhat comforted by the fact that he'll have lots of company.

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