SARASOTA, Fla. -- Some people who know the Yankees well believe that Joe Girardi really preferred neither Phil Hughes nor Joba Chamberlain as his fifth starter, and that his perfect scenario had Sergio Mitre in the rotation and Hughes and Chamberlain teaming to set up Mariano Rivera.
Whether or not that's true, Girardi sounded fully content this morning as he announced that Hughes will be the fifth starter and Chamberlain will head back to the bullpen.And with good reason.
While Hughes was outstanding as a reliever last year, he looks like a starter. Chamberlain doesn't.
"Late-inning reliever," one American League scout responded quickly, when I asked what Joba looks like.
No matter what he said, no matter his arsenal of pitches, the fact is that when Chamberlain started, he rarely had the same dominating look that he has pitching one inning out of the bullpen. He didn't throw as hard, he didn't look as aggressive and his emotions often seemed out of place.
Sometimes we make this game too complicated. Sometimes you just need to step back and watch, and let your eyes tell you what should happen. With Joba, your eyes say bullpen.
Even this morning, Girardi wouldn't commit when asked about Chamberlain's long-term future. But even that is something of a change, because forever the Yankees have been insisting that whether he's a starter or reliever now, Chamberlain is a starter eventually.
"I think Joba could do either one," Girardi said. "Right now, we think Phil's ahead of him as a starter."
The Yankees liked the maturity Hughes showed this spring, and they also liked the changeup he used more often than he has in the past. Then again, as one scout said after the Yankees announced their decision and rationale, do you really think Hughes is going to rely on the changeup if he gets in trouble?
Yankee executives wanted either Hughes or Chamberlain in the rotation, because they wanted to develop at least one of the two young pitchers as a starter. While the Yankees have a deep starting staff this year, they know that one of these years Andy Pettitte is going to retire, and they know Javier Vazquez is only signed through this year.
Girardi said the future played into the decision, but he also said that the Yankees are a now team that feels the pressure to win every year.
"You talk about every scenario," he said. "When we walked out of the room, Phil was our guy."
And Joba was back in the bullpen, back where he belongs.
Does this mean the Yankees messed up the last two seasons, when they pushed Chamberlain into the rotation? Girardi argues that they didn't.
"I don't think it's wasted," he said. "We won a World Series."
True, even if they won it with Joba spending the postseason in the bullpen.
Where he belongs.