Reliever Joba Out-Pitches Starter Joba
The bad news for the Yankees, though, was that it was in relief of himself.
Chamberlain's outing in a 7-3 loss to the Red Sox provided fodder for the Joba-has-to-start crowd and gave plenty of ammunition to the Joba-in-relief lobby.
(And let's not be mistaken: There are two sides to this debate.)
For a stretch of 5 2/3 scoreless innings, Chamberlain struck out 12 and allowed one hit.
But that only came after the Red Sox went 5-for-5 and scored four runs on his first 20 pitches.
Think about the arguments for putting Chamberlain back in a setup role, where he was dominant over the final two months of the 2007 season:
• Need. The current setup corps turned a one-run game into a four-run game.
• Health. To protect Chamberlain, still just 23, he was (wisely) removed after 108 pitches.
• Whether he knows how to be a starter. And that question lingers after the outing against Boston.
As a scout recently said, "They're asking him to pitch. He's not a pitcher." Meaning: he's at his best when he can just rear back and throw.
Chamberlain and catcher Jose Molina denied it, but Tuesday it sure looked like Chamberlain was pacing himself. Scouts clocked Chamberlain's fastball at just 88-90 mph in the first inning; he topped out at 95 mph by the sixth.
"We can't be thinking about the sixth, seventh inning in the first," Molina said. "If he does that, it's wrong. But I don't think he was doing that."
But asked if he knew why the velocity was so far down in the first inning, Chamberlain said, "No.
"You get into a rhythm, and you start going. And the ball comes out easier."
And all of a sudden, Chamberlain looked like he should be a starter.
From the start of second inning through his final batter, Chamberlain faced 18 hitters. He struck out 12 – on changeups, sliders and fastballs – gave up one hit and didn't allow a runner past second base. He made 88 pitches in that span.
"It's got to be like that from pitch one," said Chamberlain, who became the youngest Yankee with a 12-strikeout game since Al Downing in 1964.
With a pat to the chest, manager Joe Girardi removed Chamberlain with two out and none on in the sixth, after three straight strikeouts. At 108 pitches, starter Joba had matched the second-highest total of his career.
"He understands I'm going to be frustrated and mad [with being taken out]," Chamberlain said. "But he also understands, and I understand, that it's a long season."
Eventually Jonathan Albaladejo, pitching in a spot that might have belonged to reliever Joba – down one in the eighth – allowed two (unearned) runs, and Boston could cruise home.
The beat up Yankees bullpen has a 6.35 ERA, with 88 hits and 48 walks in 85 innings,
"If we feel there's a change that will help us, we're not afraid to do that," Girardi said.
Yet moving Chamberlain doesn't seem to be under consideration.
Molina said the thing he discovered in Tuesday's game is that Chamberlain "needs a push in the first inning. Show him or tell him, 'This is not a game we can afford to lose or give up four runs in the first inning.'
"You've got to push him more and more and more and take it to the next level."
Because once Chamberlain started letting it go, he out-pitched Josh Beckett. And remember, Hank Steinbrenner once said of Chamberlain, "We need a Beckett, we don't have one, and he's the one that can do it."
So the potential is there, but Chamberlain also talks about the "learning process."
Can he become another Beckett on the fly? The Yankees are too stubborn to admit otherwise.
"The positive part is after the first inning, he shut down a pretty good lineup," Girardi said. "Positives don't get you wins though.
"Yeah you want to look at the good things and build on the good things. But you have to be ready to go."