Saturday, March 24, 2007

Chien-Ming Wang Injury Intensifies Rotation Battle

With potential staff ace Chien-Ming Wang to miss at least three weeks with a hamstring strain, the competition intensifies for a potential opening at the No. 5 spot in the Yankees rotation.

Top pitching prospect Phil Hughes has been committed to AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre, so manager Joe Torre must choose between Kei Igawa, the prohibitive favorite, and righty Jeff Karstens, the surprise of camp. The choice likely will come before the end of camp, though a fifth starter will not be needed until April 8.

While Igawa started out slowly, as has been his habit, his game is rounding out considerably, with his ERA leveling off at 3.00 with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings. But Karstens' numbers are impressive as well, with his 2.70 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 13 innings.

Under ordinary circumstances a youngster such as Karstens would not be expected to usurp a high-paid, Japanese import such as Igawa. But unlikely though it may be, Torre may be tempted to move Igawa into the bullpen not because he is any less a pitcher than Karstens, but because Igawa offers a left-handed, middle-innings option in long situations.

Complicating matters are considerations to trade No. 4 starter Carl Pavano, though rumors of those talks have been quiet since earlier in the month.