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This is March Madness. The Yankees break camp in one week and Bartolo Colon has probably pitched himself into the Yankee rotation. Pitching against the Rays in Port Charlotte, the 37-year old former Cy Young Winner gave up just 2 hits and one run in 6 innings, walked none and struck out 5. If he needed to pitch well to win a spot, Colon could not have done any better Monday night.
Colon reported to camp by his own estimation at least 25 pounds overweight. He did not pitch in the majors last year and has made more than 12 starts in a season only once since 2005. Yet Colon has somehow found enough life in his arm (fastball 92-94) that the $200 million Yankees might actually take a chance that he can be their fifth starter. Freddy Garcia isn’t completely out of it, despite his 5.93 ERA. And this is actually a good spring for Garcia (10.38 for Chicago in 2010, 16.71 for Mets in 2009).
That Colon is pitching better than Garcia in March means a little something because this is a competition, but what means more is which one the Yankees feel will be pitching better in June, July, August, and September. Has Colon wasted his bullets in Florida or will he have the stamina to make it last? Is Garcia a cagey veteran who can keep finding ways to get outs deeper into the season? These are the types of questions Brian Cashman gets paid big money to answer.
So, what goes into making that projection? When Cashman, the Catholic University graduate, was asked that question Monday he made the sign of a cross, indicating it’s nothing more than an educated guess and a matter of faith:
You may not like it, but Cashman is absolutely right. No matter what decisions the Yankees make now, there is no real way of knowing you made the right decision. Colon and Garcia have been fighting for paychecks, for their livelihoods all spring. Is there a natural tendency to let down a little bit after you’ve made the team?
This has almost no correlation to Colon and Garcia, but here’s a story worth telling. Ten years ago this spring the Yankees gave their fifth starter spot to a young man named Christian Parker. The 25-year old right-hander (acquired from Montreal along with Jake Westbrook and Ted Lilly in a deal for Hideki Irabu) won the job as camp broke, but did it while pitching through a shoulder injury and didn’t tell anyone. He made one start for the Yankees on a cold April night, gave up 7 runs in 3 innings, and never pitched in a big league game again. He blew out the shoulder so badly it took him two years just to get back to pitching in the minors.
As I said, Christian Parker has almost nothing to do with this situation at all. But it’s another example of how judgments made in March can turn out just like an 11-seed making the Sweet 16. That bubble can burst at any time, and probably will sooner or later.