New routine pays dividends for Joba
Elongated pregame 'pen session leads to clean first frame
NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain can't say for sure that it was his new pregame routine that helped him pitch so well in the first inning on Saturday. But one thing he does know is that he's not changing a thing for next time.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?" Chamberlain said. "Might as well [use it again]. We'll keep going down the same road and try to stay sharp."
For one day at least, the Yankees found the solution to Chamberlain's mysterious first-inning woes. Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland devised a plan for their young right-hander to try an elongated bullpen session, intended to give Chamberlain less time between warming up and throwing the first pitch.
The result? Chamberlain retired the first three Twins hitters on 14 pitches and began the game with his fastball consistently touching the mid-90s on the radar gun. He went on to give up two runs on three hits in six innings, striking out six and picking up a no-decision in the Yankees' thrilling 6-4, 11-inning victory.
It was a sharp contrast from Chamberlain's past two outings, when he combined to allow seven runs in the first frame and surrendered a pair of three-run home runs. He gave up five hits in the opening inning to both teams. Coming into Saturday's contest, opponents were hitting .481 in the first against Chamberlain.
"I think it's more of a mental adjustment," Chamberlain said. "Physically, I was there. It's just getting over the hump. It's getting through it and getting off to a good start. The first two fastballs kind of dictated things. I threw two good fastballs early. I knew it was going to be good from there."
Chamberlain went out to the field five minutes earlier than usual for his regular warmup session. He went through his routine, that sat down for several minutes.
Next, he threw at game speed in the bullpen to three simulated hitters, meant to mimic the first three batters in Minnesota's lineup. Bullpen coach Mike Harkey stood at the plate, alternating sides to give Chamberlain a sense of what he would see to begin the game. Girardi said Chamberlain threw 12 or 13 pitches during the simulated inning and did not walk anybody.
The extra work gave Chamberlain less time to sit around waiting to take the mound for real after warming up. When he threw his first pitch of the afternoon, the right-hander hadn't yet cooled down. Chamberlain came out smoking, striking out Denard Span and Brendan Harris to begin the game, setting the tone for the rest of his outing. He thinks the pregame routine was a big part of the reason why, giving credit to Girardi and Eiland for "putting their heads together" and potentially finding an answer to his early troubles.
"I actually didn't even sit down, to be honest with you," Chamberlain said. "I used the restroom, got a drink and then we were running out."
The start left everyone in the Yankees' clubhouse feeling confident about Chamberlain's potential, as he continues to transition from reliever to starter. After the game, Chamberlain said he expects his strength to continue to improve moving forward, because he is now becoming accustomed to the rigors of pitching every five days.
And when that happens, there's no telling what the Yankees could have for the rest of the season, and possibly for years to come.
"Joba's got great stuff, everyone knows that," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Now he's settling into that starter's role, and he's been big for us."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.