Joba sees mixed results in first start
Rough first frame paves way to exit in third after 62 pitches
NEW YORK -- It was brief -- a little briefer than the Yankees expected. And it wasn't entirely as successful as New York might have hoped. But a bit more than one hour after his first career start began, Joba Chamberlain had taken a step forward.
Nobody said that Chamberlain's transition from reliever to starter would be easy. And given the nature of his outing on Tuesday night -- one break here or there might have completely changed its complexion -- there's reason to be encouraged.
"I think Joba expects to be perfect every time," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's what you want from a competitor. You don't expect to give up runs, and you expect to make your pitches every time."
Perfection has always seemed easy to Chamberlain. But it can't always continue.
"We all know," Girardi said, "that's not going to happen."
So Chamberlain walked off the mound on Tuesday, angry and unsatisfied, but still knowing somewhere in his mind that he had made progress. It didn't show up on the stat sheet, which revealed that Chamberlain had walked four batters in 2 1/3 innings. Nor did it pop up on the scoreboard, which revealed that the Yankees had absorbed a 9-3 loss.
Even Chamberlain needed some prodding to latch onto the positives of this outing, which saw him throw 62 pitches in total and hit the clubhouse far earlier than expected.
"I didn't go very good," Chamberlain said. "I wanted to get my team a lot deeper into the game, and it wasn't very good -- that's what it comes down to."
The problems all stemmed from the first inning, in which Chamberlain tossed 38 pitches, all but ensuring that he wouldn't last deep into the game. Girardi and the Yankees brass had penciled Chamberlain in for 65 pitches before this start, so when he used up more than half of them to retire only three batters, in came the trouble.
Uncharacteristically, it was control that vexed him. Chamberlain's velocity and energy were both fine -- he once hit 101 mph on the stadium radar -- but nearly every time he tried to nip the corners of the strike zone, he missed.
Both Girardi and Chamberlain swore that there wasn't much difference between the way he attacked hitters in the first inning on Tuesday and the way he went after them in any given eighth. But the Blue Jays saw things differently.
They watched as Chamberlain pumped two strikes over the plate, same as he always does. Then they watched as he went to his off-speed pitches, same as he always does.
Then they trotted on down to first base, which wasn't the same, at all.
"He wasn't throwing those for strikes and we weren't chasing them," Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay said. "Usually, in the eighth inning, we're chasing those. That's how he's successful, is he throws it where it looks like it's going to be a strike and we chase it."
In this game, Chamberlain the starter didn't pitch much differently than Chamberlain the reliever. He relied almost exclusively on fastballs and sliders, mixing in a stray curveball or two, and shying away from his changeup. And though he'll eventually need to change that strategy -- using more pitches as batters see him for the second and third time in a game -- he didn't see any reason to on Tuesday.
He may have started this game, but he's not a starting pitcher yet.
"It's his first start," Girardi said. "He wasn't quite as sharp as he probably wanted to be, but in saying that, he kept us in the game."
Girardi chalked it up to a case of Chamberlain "trying to be too good." And perhaps that was the problem. He had been so good throughout his early months with the team that the expectations had soared impossibly high. They still are.
This was just a blip, remember?
So the Yankee Stadium crowd gave Chamberlain a standing ovation on Tuesday before he even threw a pitch, and another one as he left the mound. He couldn't win the game at that point, nor could he lose it. And though he acknowledged the crowd, he couldn't quite cheer with them.
"I was mad at myself," Chamberlain said. "You've only got so many pitches, and I didn't do a very good job conserving those pitches."
Now, he'll have to wait five days to be better. He's not used to that concept, either.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.