In 2007, three young pitchers represented the future of the New York Yankees starting rotation and dominance over the American League for years to come. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy were the building blocks to a new dynasty after the Core Four were gone. Now, only four years later, all three may have seen their better days with the Yankees prematurely slip away for one reason or another.
Chamberlain and Hughes were considered so indispensable, Kennedy was the one traded to Arizona in the Curtis Granderson mix before the 2010 season. He is now enjoying an All-Star season with a 6-2 record and 3.14 ERA with the Diamondbacks.
Both pitchers were shuttled to-and-from the bullpen to the starting rotation and the team set limitations on the hard-throwing pitchers' innings. They became known as the "Joba Rules."
The Joba Rules were put in place to limit pitcher's time on the mound and protect the young hurlers' arms.
Now, even with all the coddling, it looks like Chamberlain's season is over, with Tommy John surgery is on the horizon, for an elbow injury--which could keep the 25 year-old Chamberlain out until the 2013 season-- nobody saw coming. Nobody except one person.
"I just knew. It's something I can't explain," said Joba's dad, Harlan. "But as a father, I knew."
Hughes, meanwhile, has been on the DL since April 15 with right shoulder inflammation--or dead arm as the Yankees have cryptically called it. The Yankee starter, who had an All-Star season last year, threw 30 pitches over two innings yesterday in a simulated game in Tampa. His bread-and-butter fastball reached 92 mph--slowly approaching a shadow of his old self. Hughes will give it a go and start Tuesday for the Gulf Coast Yankees.
Even with all of the reasons behind the Yankees implementation of the Rules, it seems they did nothing to prevent injuries to Chamberlain or Hughes.
In 2007, then manager Joe Torre wouldn't use Chamberlain on consecutive days, and for every inning he threw, the young righthander would get a day off.
The following year new manager, Joe Girardi, lifted the Rules but sent Chamberlain to the bullpen.
Last season, Hughes finally earned a position in the starting rotation but was restricted to 175 innings over the regular season. He slumped down the stretch after an All-Star appearance and lost two big games in the playoffs.
Girardi said, up to now, Chamberlain was consistently throwing in the mid-90's and during the recent road trip and showed no signs of pain.
While Chamberlain's new elbow injury caught the Yankees off guard, his father could tell his son was hurting.
Chamberlain's dad thought it was only a matter of time before his son injured his arm, and didn't blame the Yankees for babying their his son or causing the damage to Chamberlain's elbow, but did have regrets about the Joba Rules.
"Looking back on it now, well...there's some reservations," he said. "But I entrust these people, this organization with one of the two most precious things I have, my children. I don't think any where along the line that they intentionally wanted to hurt my son. Had I thought that, I would have intervened. In summary, they did what they felt was best and I respect that."
The elder Chamberlain said his son knew about the possibility of injury before he was a Yankee.
"He throws the ball with such velocity, such power, that the torque the body goes through --any pitcher-- and compound that with a power pitcher, something eventually is going to break," he explained.
Chamberlain was having a fine season with a 2-0 record and 2.83 ERA in 27 games.
GM Brian Cashman expects the Tommy John surgery to keep Chamberlain out of action for "10 to 14 months."
Chamberlain's dad is more optimistic. "With relievers, it's a shorter time. You're talking eight, nine, ten months," he said.
"He's still pitching 96 mph and gets people out," Harlan Chamberlain exclaimed. "Look what he's doing now; imagine what's going to happen when he gets back."