The tabloids had a field day after Joba Chamberlain's latest Spring Training flop this week, but the reaction from the hoi polloi was something less than an outrage. Neither Yankee fans nor Yankee brass seemed the slightest bit flustered about Joba getting raked by the Tigers.
Some of the non-reaction surely had to do with the fact that, outside of those responsible for back page zingers, most people realize practice games are best used for practice. Chamberlain was working on getting the ball inside, he didn't succeed and he got pounded. It's not what you'd like to see of course, but better pitchers than Chamberlain have gotten bombed in exhibition games and gone on to healthy and productive careers.
Still, it was odd to see Joba fall on his face and elicit so little reaction from a fanbase that hasn't been shy about blowing everything he does wildly out of proportion. Can we really explain it all away with rationality about the relative unimportance of a March game?
We'll say we can't and put forth that the real reason for the calm reaction is the presence of Javier Vazquez in the Yankees rotation. Same goes for the somewhat unimpressive Phil Hughes. The two enfants terrible of the last two Yankee seasons are still being counted on to play a role with the team this season, but fifth starter on a defending champion isn't a spot that causes much hysteria.
That's not the only way Vazquez is proving to be a soothing influence on the Yankees. Scott Randall of ESPN.com points out (you'll need a subscription to read the full article) that key starters on each of the last five World Series winners have seen sharp performance declines the next season. He doesn't mention that the same is true of several aces of the losing sides, but could because it also speaks to how a shorter offseason and accumulated innings can come back to haunt you.
The Yankees might not have much concern about CC Sabathia, who has logged a ton of innings since the start of 2007 without losing effectiveness, but A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte aren't quite as used to being put through the ringer. A concern to be sure, but much less of one with Vazquez. Last year, Burnett and Pettitte needed to be pushed to exhaustion because of the Joba Rules and the lack of a fifth starter. Now that won't be necessary because Vazquez is there to sop up a full share of the pie.
We'll see how Vazquez fares when the season actually starts, of course, but for now he's like the best anxiety medication the Yankee pitching staff has ever been prescribed. Just look at that picture if you don't believe the rationale. It's as if Getty Images was working for a pharmaceutical company looking to make the dark nights a little better.
Coincidence? We think not.