Joba better, but Yanks' 'pen, pop win it
Giambi goes deep; Abreu drives in three against Royals
NEW YORK -- This seemed like an ordinary jam in an ordinary inning, with a runner on second base and Joba Chamberlain on the mound. But the fact that it was Chamberlain, and not someone else, made it different. Once he walked David DeJesus on Sunday with one out in the fifth inning, Chamberlain had thrown 78 pitches. That was too many.
So, with the plan for Chamberlain lodged in his mind and the field spread out in front of him, Yankees manager Joe Girardi marched out of the dugout and took the ball.
He didn't particularly want to, but he knew he had to.
"The pitch count tells you no chance," Girardi said. "Obviously, you would love to get him through five there and watch him do his thing, but you have to be smart, because this young man has a wonderful arm, and you have to protect it."
So the Yankees did, and then they protected the game. Dan Giese came on and pitched 2 2/3 innings of spotless relief, and the Yankees -- fueled by their resurgent offense -- won their third game in four days, this one a 6-3 decision over the Royals.
"Now, it's just a matter of getting him out there and getting him to throw 100 pitches," catcher Jorge Posada said. "I think that's the biggest thing -- to push him."
Not that he needs any extra motivation, this 22-year-old prodigy who wants nothing more than to pitch as much as he can. This time, he performed far better than in his rotation debut, pumping fastballs into the strike zone and lasting 4 1/3 innings. He made "one mistake," in the words of both Girardi and Posada -- a long home run to Jose Guillen -- but otherwise he pitched fine, striking out five and walking only one.
Yet that pesky pitch count continued to creep up, and DeJesus only made it worse by watching eight pitches whiz by in the fifth. He swung at three of them.
Chamberlain, staked to a count of 75-80 pitches during his second career start, could do little but continue to pepper the zone. Certainly he, too, wanted to pitch longer.
"But you understand that it's the beginning of June," Chamberlain said, "and hopefully, there's a lot of time to come along to play. You learn to be patient."
That much is easy when the relief corps pitches so well. No Royal reached base in 2 2/3 innings off Giese, who has shuttled back and forth between Yankee Stadium and Triple-A Scranton twice in the past week. As a reward, the 31-year-old Giese earned his first career win.
"I feel like I'm in a movie or something," Giese said. "It's awesome."
The rest of the afternoon wasn't scripted, but it almost seemed so.
Finally, this offense is coming alive, and it continued to do so on Sunday. Bobby Abreu homered and drove in three runs, Jason Giambi also launched a home run and Alex Rodriguez narrowly missed, shooting his two-run double off the base of the outfield wall.
"I have no pop," Rodriguez joked. "That's why I went to the weight room after the game."
The fireworks weren't as prevalent as on Saturday, when the team plated 11 runs, but they represented a certain bit of normalcy. These Yankees expect to score half a dozen runs every day. Over their past six games, they've been averaging precisely that.
Chamberlain, too, is melting back into a certain routine, now that he's edging closer to pitching games like a normal starter. That, more than anything, he said, made him feel more comfortable on Sunday than he did in his debut. It's why he has begun to throw more off-speed pitches -- he threw three changeups against the Royals and nearly a dozen curveballs -- and why he pitched more efficiently his second time out.
"He's kind of settled into that role," Giambi said. "I think he had a little bit of that stopper mentality the first time he went out there. He wanted to try to strike everybody out. That's what you do when you get put in the game to stop a big rally, but today he went after the guys more aggressively."
Perhaps easier said than done, but it's something that Chamberlain must learn.
"It's hard to pitch with a time clock," Rodriguez said. "As he gets his pitch count up to near 100, you're going to see a much better, a much more confident Joba with more conviction. It's really hard what he's having to do right now, and as he gets more into it, he's going to get better and better and better."
So next time, stuck in an ordinary jam, Chamberlain may have the opportunity to wriggle his way out of it. He'll throw up to 95 pitches in his next start, scheduled for Friday in Houston, which could take him into the sixth or seventh inning.
Chamberlain will be a normal starter yet. Sunday was simply another step.
"You want to get to that point as fast as you can, but you also understand you have to be patient, and continue to build up to that," he said. "As a competitor, you want to be out there as long as you can go and as hard as you can go. But you also understand that it's a transition, and you have to be patient and learn from it and get better every time out."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.