The Yankees didn't just break a four-game losing streak last night, they stomped the Orioles, cruising to a lopsided win for the first time since they beat the Mariners 8-2 on May 4, more than two weeks ago. Darrell Rasner and Joba Chamberlain combined to recorded just the third Yankee shutout of the season and first since April 27, while five Yankees had multi hit games (led by Alex Rodriguez, who went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a solo homer) as the Bombers scored eight runs for just the fifth time all season and first time since that May 4 game against Seattle.
Rasner, who is now 3-0 in as many starts, was nails, retiring the first eight Orioles in order, striking out a career-best six men, and allowing only that many to reach base while using up only 95 pitches in his seven scoreless innings. Rasner has walked two men in his three big-league starts this season, has a 1.89 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. What makes that all the more impressive is that he was even better in his five triple-A starts before being called up, going 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and averaging 6 2/3 IP/GS. Darrell Rasner isn't this good, but I've long believed he's a legitimate back-of-the-rotation starter. At this moment, he's the Yankees best starter. Not bad for a pitcher who was claimed off waivers while still in double-A two years ago and then slipped through waivers this past offseason and wasn't even on the 40-man roster until he was called up in early May. Heck, Rasner was skipped the last time through the rotation (I'm still trying to figure that one out).
That's the great thing about Rasner. He's so dull, you barely even notice him. He doesn't have any eye-popping pitches. He dominated the Orioles last night, but never looked dominating. He just mixes his four pitches, throws strikes, and works fast. Before you notice he's pitching, he's back in the dugout. Even his post-game interviews are impossible to pay attention to. All of that makes the nickname Shelley Duncan used for him while introducing the Yankee lineup on FOX a couple of Saturday's ago perfectly inappropriate: "Razzmatazz" it is. Razzle Dazzle 'em, Mister Cellophane.
By the way, that game for which Rasner was called up in early May was that May 4 game against the Mariners. Though he's needed just seven runs total to win his three starts, Rasner has received an average of seven runs of support per game, making him just about the best thing to happen to the Yankees this year. Last night, the offense in support of Rasner drew five walks and bounced left-handed Baltimore starter Gregg Garrett Olson in the third inning after plating six men and making Olson throw 79 pitches. Queens native Dennis Sarfate, part of the Miguel Tejada booty from Houston, shut things down for a couple of frames after that, but the Yanks pounced on subsequent reliever Lance Cormier for two more tallies in the sixth.
Both of those sixth-inning runs should have come on Alex Rodriguez's second home run of the game (his third in his two games since returning from the DL), but, in an echo of the botched Carlos Delgado home run call on Sunday, the umpires erroneously ruled Rodriguez's hit, which bounced off the yellow stairs in front of the right field bleachers, a double. Rodriguez seemed a bit too concerned about the extra two bases with one out in the sixth inning of a 7-0 game, but a passed ball and an RBI groundout from Shelley Duncan got Alex home with the final run of the Yankees 8-0 victory.
So the Yankees got what they'd been desperate for, not just a win, but a clean, crisp victory with errorless play on the bases and in the field and dominating performances on both sides of the ball. What could possibly overshadow a win like that?
How about the Yankees officially starting the process of turning Joba Chamberlain back into a starter?
Yup. It's official. Joba Chamberlain finished last night's game by throwing 35 pitches over two shutout innings, allowing a single and two walks and striking out three. According to Joba, four or five of those pitches were changeups, which is more than he threw in the majors all of last season. Immediately after the game, Joe Girardi admitted to the YES Network's Kim Jones on the field, "the process has started." Despite extensive questioning in his office, however, Girardi didn't offer many more details.
Right now it sounds like the Yankees will work to extend Joba in the majors, using him in multi-inning relief assignments, though not necessarily as a mop-up man. Girardi mentioned possibly using Joba in a multi-inning set-up role for the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, but wouldn't specify the rate at which his pitch counts and innings would increase. Girardi did say that Joba's days to pitch would be somewhat predetermined, and implied that the process of converting him all the way to a starting assignment could take a month or more. He did not, however, comment on the need to complete the process with a minor league assignment.
Girardi was specific in saying that the decision to begin Chamberlain's return to the rotation now was entirely based on the organization's pre-season accounting of his target innings total, and has nothing to do with the emergent need created by the struggles of and injuries to the team's original five starters.
Speaking of which, Chien-Ming Wang had an MRI on his right calf and was diagnosed with what Girardi called "a mild, mild strain." He's not expected to miss his next turn, but could get bumped to Sunday with Mike Mussina, who only threw 41 pitches in his last start, going on short rest.
As for who will take over Chamberlain's eighth-inning role, Girardi troublingly praised Kyle "Four-Bagger" Farnsworth's work thus far this year, but if you look over the team's Baseball-Reference page, Edwar Ramirez's zero runs allowed, 0.90 WHIP, and 11 Ks in ten big league innings this season jump off the page and compare favorably to the 11 1/3 innings that put Brian Bruney in the seventh-inning role before he broke his foot. Ramirez hasn't been used in anything approaching a close game thus far and, in fact, has pitched in only one Yankee win, but given his performance thus far, it's time for the Yankees to start using him in some high-leverage situations.