Joba shines in first win as a starter
Righty tosses 6 2/3 scoreless innings; bats pound out 16 hits
PITTSBURGH -- The process of moving Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the rotation took exactly five weeks to complete.
All things considered, it could not have gone any better.
Set loose from those pesky pitch-count shackles, Chamberlain logged his first victory as a starter, shutting out the Pirates into the seventh inning on Wednesday. Bobby Abreu homered and drove in four runs to pace the offense as the Yankees hammered out a 10-0 victory at PNC Park.
The transition began in secrecy on May 21 in New York, when Yankees manager Joe Girardi allowed Chamberlain to throw 35 pitches and announced the reason after the game. As Chamberlain whipped 114 pitches through Pittsburgh's lineup, those cautious days seemed distant.
"Looking back, it doesn't seem like too long," Chamberlain said. "As you're going in, every fifth day, it seems like the next time you get to throw takes forever. As we're going now, I've just got to continue to get stronger and get better."
Making his fifth Major League start, Chamberlain was buoyed to support before he even took the mound, as the Yankees scored twice in the top of the first inning off Pirates left-hander Zach Duke.
Chamberlain said the early runs allowed him to relax, and though he had a lengthy second inning, Abreu kept the Bucs off the board with a perfect throw to cut down Ryan Doumit attempting to score from second base for the final out.
That was the Pirates' best chance against the 22-year-old rookie, who saw his lead swell to as large as eight runs by the time he trotted out for the sixth inning, the Yankees hoping to continue building his pitch count.
By night's end, Chamberlain was safe-guarding a lineup card on the top shelf of his locker, indicative of his fourth Major League victory -- and his first when he'd pitched the first inning.
"You don't really care, as long as you just get wins," Chamberlain said. "It's easy to go out when the offense scores a couple of runs for you and relaxes you a little bit. A win is a win and you try to get as many as you can."
Chamberlain relied mostly on his bread-and-butter -- the fastball and slider -- but also mixed in a smattering of curveballs and changeups in continuing to refine his repertoire. The approach has been consistent.
"The thing about Joba is that he's really pitched through all of this," Girardi said. "He hasn't just been a two-pitch guy. He's tried to incorporate all of his pitches and he's done a real nice job making the adjustment."
Girardi tried to coax Chamberlain through the seventh inning as well, but a pair of two-out singles spoiled those plans, drawing Girardi out to retrieve Chamberlain amid applause from the crowd of 38,952. Chamberlain said the 114 pitches were the most he had thrown since he was wearing the uniform of the University of Nebraska.
"Everything feels good," Chamberlain said.
Seventy-six of those offerings went for strikes as Chamberlain scattered six hits over his 6 2/3 innings, walking one and striking out seven. With five earned runs in 25 innings as a starting pitcher, Chamberlain has compiled a dazzling 1.80 ERA.
"This has probably went as well as it could have went," Girardi said. "It just shows you how hard Joba has worked at it. He has embraced this challenge and really wanted to do this. It's a testimony of how hard he works."
Chamberlain's move to the rotation, at the time, drew a heavy amount of criticism from those who believed the Yankees would be best served to keep him in his role as a dominant eighth-inning setup man, paving the path to closer Mariano Rivera.
He was very good at that, no question, but it appears he's also very good at this.
"You've got people saying he should be in the bullpen or start, and there's arguments for both sides," Derek Jeter said. "He's done a good job in the bullpen and he's done a good job starting. It's pretty much a win-win situation."
The results have reduced those claims, as has a devastating injury to ace Chien-Ming Wang. Had Chamberlain not already been in the process of building up his pitch count, the Yankees almost certainly would have had to make the move as a result of the partially torn tendon and sprained right foot that will sideline Wang until September.
"The kid knows how to do it," Abreu said. "He was a starter before in the Minor Leagues. When he gets a lead and gets ahead, he handles it very well. His goal is to attack the hitters, and that's the way to do it. He's not afraid."
One evening after an agitated Girardi lambasted his club by repeatedly saying they "stunk" in a 12-5 loss to Pittsburgh, the Yankees got to Duke for four runs in five innings, including those first-inning cushions. Jason Giambi grounded into a fielder's choice that shortstop Jack Wilson threw away for an error, allowing the first two runs to score.
"We were a lot better tonight, that's for sure," Girardi said. "The approach was great tonight, and it starts with starting pitching. Joba comes out and does his job, and we get two runs in the first -- it was a nice start for us."
Giambi added an RBI single in the third inning and Jeter tacked on an RBI double in the fourth to close out the scoring on Duke (4-5), who allowed seven hits while walking two in his first career appearance against New York. It was one of three hits for Jeter, who owns a team-leading 13-game hitting streak.
Robinson Cano clubbed his fifth home run leading off the sixth inning, and Abreu connected on a three-run shot later that inning, both off reliever T.J. Beam, a former Yankee who appeared in 20 games for the 2006 club.
The previously slumping Cano now has 13 hits in his past 32 at-bats and Abreu -- who had four RBIs with an eighth-inning double off of Franquelis Osoria -- has now hit in seven consecutive games, including homers in back-to-back contests.
"Bobby Abreu is a great hitter," Girardi said. "He's going to go through his ups and downs. Jeter had a big night. We had big nights from a lot of guys. It's great to see."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.