Normally I'm not a huge fan of Joe's decision making when it comes to his pitching staff. I've seen him leave starters in too long or take them out too soon and then micromanage the shit out of his bullpen when the situation didn't call for it enough times that it's a miracle I haven't put a beer bottle through my TV screen. But what he did yesterday was a masterful job of decision making, motivation, and support all rolled into one. And the best part was, it all happened before A.J. even stepped on the mound.
In my opinion, the key to A.J.'s outing yesterday was Joe's announcement prior to the game that Javy would be taking Dustin Moseley's spot in the rotation on Saturday and Moseley was now out of a job as a starter. It seems insignificant, but with all the speculation surrounding Joe's "evaluation" comments after A.J.'s last start, it was a good bet that if A.J. bombed yesterday he was heading for the 'pen. At this point we all know that A.J. is mentally fragile and he's probably already put enough pressure on himself to perform, so Joe making that call yesterday to insert Javy for Moseley was essentially him saying to A.J. "you're my guy, and you're staying in the rotation. Now go out and pitch." It was a statement of confidence in A.J., even though he probably doesn't deserve it, and it probably allowed A.J. to go out and pitch a little easier without the burden of his spot in the rotation resting on his shoulders.
Now did the Javy-for-Moseley announcement actually have anything to do with A.J.'s better outing yesterday? Who knows? But I don't think there's any doubt that Joe meant it as an announcement to A.J. that he was going to keep his rotation spot regardless. And it's a fact that A.J. looked much better on the mound yesterday than he had in his last couple of outings. His fastball had more zip to it, and his curveball was working better than it has in a long time (24 of 36 thrown for strikes, 8 swings and misses). He made a few mistakes, but he worked through them and kept the Yankees in the lead, tying his season high K mark with 8 in the process. It wasn't a lights out performance, but it was a quality start, which is a good jumping off point for A.J. as he moves towards trying to straighten himself out for the postseason.
So a tip of the cap to Joe for that move yesterday. He certainly didn't have a reason to be committed to A.J., but he did it anyway. Players need to know that managers have their backs and Joe gave A.J. that knowledge yesterday. Now A.J. needs to go out and show Joe that he made the right call.