Chamberlain to return to familiar role
Rookie hurler will be starter when Spring Training opens
NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain has the information he asked for, and the Yankees hope that he'll answer a question at the front of the 2008 rotation.
Chamberlain, who made a splash as a dominant setup man down the stretch of the 2007 season, will open Spring Training as a starter, club senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner has confirmed.
Speaking with the Associated Press outside Legends Field late on Friday, Steinbrenner said that no decisions have yet been made regarding manager Joe Torre's status for 2008, with organizational meetings scheduled for Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.
"The only thing that's been decided, [the one thing] that we all agree on, is that Chamberlain and [Phillip] Hughes start out Spring Training as starters," Steinbrenner said.
Chamberlain, 22, provided a needed spark after being converted from a starter in the Minors into a big league-ready reliever. Jumping all the way from Class A Tampa in his first full professional season, Chamberlain was 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA and one save in 19 relief appearances with New York.
Speaking this week as he cleaned out his Yankee Stadium locker, Chamberlain said he would prefer to know his future assignment as soon as possible.
"The earlier the better, just because of the mindset," Chamberlain said. "It's a big part of this game, so I can have an idea of what's going to happen when I get there. Physically, I'm not going to prepare any different, but mentally, I can prepare for what's going to happen and how I'm going to approach everything."
To protect their young hurler, the Yankees instituted a set of guidelines that came to be called the "Joba Rules." A group of advisors -- most notably general manager Brian Cashman and pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras -- scripted situations and circumstances in which Chamberlain could be used by Torre.
Often, the rules proved confusing enough that Torre had to place pregame telephone calls just to confirm Chamberlain's status for that day. The club gradually phased the rules out in September, allowing Chamberlain to pitch on back-to-back days and enter games in mid-inning as preparation for the playoffs.
While Chamberlain proved effective in setting up for closer Mariano Rivera -- at least until a swarm of Lake Erie midges unnerved him in a Game 2 appearance at Jacobs Field during the American League Division Series -- the Yankees have to continued to state that they see Chamberlain as a starting pitcher going forward.
Chamberlain made 15 starts in the Minor Leagues between Class A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was 9-2 with a 2.56 ERA, allowing 24 earned runs and 61 hits while walking 27 and striking out 125 in 84 1/3 innings.
Chamberlain also made four relief appearances as he prepared for an Aug. 7 promotion to New York. Speaking as he cleaned out his Yankee Stadium locker this week, Chamberlain said he would throw his curveball and changeup more as a starting pitcher.
Much of his early success at the big league level -- Chamberlain did not allow a run in his first 15 1/3 innings, striking out 34 in 24 innings -- was accomplished on the strength of just two pitches, a high-90s fastball and a biting slider.
"Anything I can do to help the team win, in any aspect or any light, I think I'll do the best I can," Chamberlain said. "I'll give it everything I've got every time I go out, whether it's every fifth day or doing whatever I do out of the bullpen. It's something I look forward to doing."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.