How far Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have fallen

Joba Chamberlain leaves a game against the Baltimore

Joba Chamberlain leaves a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 2, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Remember summer 2007?

Back then, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were considered the future of the Yankees. Both burst on to the scene that year, ballyhooed as the hard-throwing righthanders with the talent to front the rotation for a decade.

In real time, it wasn't all that long ago. But in baseball years, that's an eon, and potential gradually dissipated into disappointment.

Yesterday . . .

Hughes: "It's really frustrating. I've had a bad season up to this point . . . I have to keep grinding and fight my way out of this.''

Chamberlain: "I've kind of experienced everything in this game, from the top to the bottom, being really good and being really bad. You have to continue to keep grinding.''

Hughes, who hasn't won since July 2, fell to 4-11 with a 4.99 ERA Saturday, throwing 99 pitches in 41/3 innings in the Yankees' 9-3 loss to the Tigers. He has pitched a total of 11 innings in his last three starts, allowing four home runs, 14 runs and 22 hits in that span.

Asked if he has considered pulling Hughes from the rotation, manager Joe Girardi said simply: "I don't know if we have any options. We need him to pitch well. That's the bottom line. He's worked hard between starts trying to fix things, but it just hasn't happened.''

Chamberlain entered in the sixth inning, inheriting two of Preston Claiborne's runners, and served up a three-run homer to Torii Hunter that gave Detroit a 9-2 lead. Chamberlain, nearly unhittable in 2007, now has a 4.80 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP.

Back in 2007, in his second major-league start, Hughes had a no-hitter going against Texas when he was forced to leave after 61/3 innings with a hamstring injury. He dazzled in the bullpen in 2009, helping the Yankees win the World Series as a setup man, and followed that with an 18-win season as a starter in 2010.

Chamberlain had a 0.38 ERA in 19 games in 2007. He enjoyed success in his first two seasons, first as a flame-throwing reliever, then as a reliever turned starter turned reliever during the "Joba Rules'' period.

Both pitchers have battled injuries and inconsistency throughout their careers, but this season could be the low point. The groans are audible at Yankee Stadium when long fly balls are hit off Hughes. As are the boos that have been directed at Chamberlain.

"There's very few guys that roll through a career and not have struggles,'' Girardi said. "The trick is not getting to the big leagues; the trick is staying and being successful. That's the hard part, because teams make adjustments to you.''

Both will be free agents after the season, and barring serious injury or the unforeseen, both likely will be on major-league rosters next year. But it seems more likely that it won't be the Yankees'.

To that, both had similar answers, insisting they have avoided the potential distractions and pressure that can come with expiring contracts . . . particularly in a poor season.

"You can't think about the big picture,'' Hughes said. "All I can do is just focus on that next pitch.''

Added Chamberlain: "If you stay healthy and throw good ballgames, everything else will take care of itself.''

Both said the right things and were stand-up guys in taking all questions Saturday. But the answers they need continue to elude them.

"It's not Little League anymore,'' Hughes said. "There's nothing you can say to yourself. You just have to find a way somehow.''

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