Well we can all stop speculating about whether Phil Hughes deserves the #2 spot in the rotation. Joe made it official yesterday, announcing after the game that A.J. will be the #2 starter in the rotation and Phil will take the #3 spot.
“That’s what we brought A.J. here to do,” Girardi said. “He struggled last year, but we believe he’s going to be back.” (via LoHud)
So what's the bigger deal here? A.J. getting the spot behind CC or Phil getting the spot behind A.J.? On the surface, this looks like an easy situation to figure out. A.J. is more experienced than Phil, and when he's on his fastball-curveball combo plays up to the type of stuff you want a top-of-the-rotation starter to have. Phil is still learning to master his offspeed stuff, especially his changeup, and really needs to lock down that reliable 3rd pitch before he can be considered a true top shelf starter.
But then consider how awful A.J. was last year and how important that 3rd starter spot became behind him. That spot was taken by Andy Pettitte, and between A.J.'s struggles and Javy Vazquez's equally disappointing results in the 4-spot, that 3rd spot in the rotation became very important. The Yankees were always confident in CC at the top, but if they lost a game in his start and then A.J came out and bombed the next day, the 3rd starter was the stopper of the rotation, somebody Joe could turn to for a big outing if and when the team needed a win, and before he got injured Andy performed that role for the team incredibly well in 2010. Now with Andy gone, that role gets passed on to Phil in the 3-spot.
So does Joe giving A.J. the 2-spot and Phil the 3 show that Joe has seen enough good stuff from A.J. this spring to make him feel confident in A.J.? Or does Joe have more confidence in Phil to be able to step up in a pinch and deliver a 7-8-inning, 1-2-run gem after a rough couple of games than he does in A.J.? Either way, each guy now knows where he falls in the 2011 rotation and we can focus the rest of our energy on the 4th and 5th starter spots from here on out.