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See Spot Start

It’s the battle of the spot starters in Detroit tonight with Aaron Small taking his second turn in place of Shawn Chacon, and Roman Colon making his first start of the year in place of the recently disabled Mike Maroth. Curiously, both assumed their rotation spots in relief of disaster starts by the pitchers they’ve replaced, eating up innings while their teams staged unlikely comebacks that ended with ninth-inning victories (though the Tigers’ comeback was against the Royals, so perhaps “unlikely” isn’t entirely appropriate).

On their careers both Small and Colon, who is nearly eight years Small’s junior, have been marginal types who haven’t managed to stick as starters or relievers. Colon came to the Tigers at the trading deadline last year as one of the two pitchers received from the Braves in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth.

In his previous start against the Mets at Shea, Small faced one more than the minimum through his first three innings, then collapsed in the fourth, escaping the hook only because of an inning-ending double play only to get pulled after retiring just one of the first three batters in the fifth.

Small’s next turn will come on Sunday, after which he may well be returned to the bullpen, if not the minors (enduring Scott Erickson while his ERA hovers around 4.00 is one thing, enduring Aaron Small while his is around 8.50 is another thing entirely). Shawn Chacon is scheduled to throw off a mound today and could return to the rotation after one more mound session and a rehab start. Assuming all goes well with both, that second mound session will likely synch up with Small’s throw day and the rehab start with his Sunday turn. That would have Chacon back in the rotation to kick off the Oakland series a week from Friday.

In the meantime, with Jorge Posada having made a triumphant return to the line-up yesterday, going 2 for 4 and feeling less pain thanks the removal of one of the straps on his left shin guard, the Yankees have returned third catcher Koyie Hill to Columbus in exchange for Darrell Rasner. Rasner, you may remember, was plucked off waivers from the Nationals this spring. Since then he’s been the Clippers’ best starter, posting this line in nine starts:

52 2/3 IP, 53 H, 3 HR, 11 BB, 42 K, 1.22 WHIP, 2.56 ERA, 4-0

Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t intend to have Rasner take over Small’s next two starts. Instead, he’ll rot in the bullpen behind Erickson.

Rasner was chosen because Matt Smith, who was demoted in favor of Hill on Friday, two days after being recalled, has to spend ten days in the minors before he can be called up again. But one wonders why they chose Rasner, who has been a pure starter in Columbus, over Ramiro Mendoza, who has pitched out of both the Clippers’ bullpen and rotation and been absolutely lights out overall. The only explanation I can think of is that they didn’t want to have to clear room on the 40-man roster for Mendoza, though moving Matsui to the 60-day DL is all it would have taken. Perhaps the Yankees have decided to convert Mendoza to full-time starting, either as added insurance, or to protect his surgically repaired rotator cuff from being Sturtzed up by Torre.

Speaking of which, Torre has finally figured out that he can use Ron Villone, who pitched two perfect innings yesterday, to lighten Scott Proctor’s load. This revelation gives the Yankees skipper a five-man end-game that includes the one-two punch of Farnsworth and Rivera set up by any combination of the lefty-righty duo Proctor and Villone and lefty specialist Myers. That’s scads better than the “Farns and Sturtze are interchangeable one-inning pitchers setting up Mo” concept that Torre broke camp with. While Villone is pitching as far over his head as Proctor was in April, he at least has some track record of major league success and a history of starting that should allow him to endure the extra work. For those not keeping track, Proctor’s current pace would result in 107 innings over the full year, a staggering total even by Torre’s standards. The last Yankee to throw over 100 innings in pure relief was Mariano Rivera in 1996. Coincidentally, Mo threw 107 2/3 innings that year.

At any rate, expect to see several if not all of these guys tonight. Rasner might even work his way into the game if Small gets an early hook. Perhaps he could swipe Small’s job the same way Small swiped Chacon’s (minus the injury, of course).

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