(Long Island, NY) Taking nothing away from his 18-year career, Mike Mussina has been a quality pitcher in the American League. 250 wins, an ERA under four and over 2,500 strikeouts will give you credibility. But these are the Yankees that we’re talking about. You know, the ‘Evil Empire.’ The ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ bunch that strives to add to their collection of championships. Reputation has no bearing on your job security.
Last summer, Mussina was bounced from the rotation at the end of August after giving up 19 earned runs in his three previous starts, in which he was able to pitch only 9 2/3 innings combined. Ian Kennedy, one of the Yanks young arms the team is counting on in 2008, was recalled from the minor leagues to replace Moose, who found himself banished to mop-up duty out of the bullpen.
When it was all said and done, Mussina finished with an 11-10 record, a 5.15 ERA, and an alarming 188 hits in 152 innings pitched. In his last appearance of the season on September 28, the weak Baltimore Orioles – Mussina’s original team – knocked him around for six earned runs in five innings. With the righthander turning 39, the whispers can be heard questioning if he is washed up or not.
The Bombers’ rotation may or may not include the veteran Mussina. Kennedy and his fellow youngsters Philip Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are all going to get a good look in Tampa and have the chance to earn a job. Chamberlain came out of the pen a year ago and may do it again this year, or begin the season getting some starts in Triple-A.
That may leave Mussina on the outside looking in or the number five starter at best. For now, he is playing the consummate teammate and showing the ropes to Kennedy, who may in fact end up taking his job two years in a row.
”We’ve got some young kids on the pitching staff that people are expecting a lot from,” Mussina said to reporters at the Yankees facility in Florida. ”I’ve been lucky enough to be doing this for a long time, and I’ve been doing it in New York for, this is my eighth year. So if I can tell them anything, show them anything, give them any help I can, that’s what I should be doing.”
So far this spring, Mussina has been seen regularly with Hughes and Kennedy, and the three sit at their lockers and speak after workouts. Hughes sees this as a benefit and has picked the vet’s brain for pointers. “It’s been good,” Hughes told reporters. “He’s opened up a little bit more. If I have a question about something, I’ll ask him.”
That may surprise some of Mussina’s critics, who have become to know the man as aloof at best and surly at worst. He is not a big talker, to the media and otherwise. So to see him assisting someone who may very well occupy his spot is encouraging.
After Chien Men Wang and Andy Pettitte, the Bombers will choose between Mussina and the ‘Big Three,’ with someone not making the cut. Whoever that will be remains to be seen. But at least Mussina has changed a few minds on his attitude towards earning a job.