Joba's starting struggles downplayed
Skipper has confidence young righty can turn things around
ANAHEIM -- As the spotlight focused upon Joba Chamberlain's starting future once again, Yankees manager Joe Girardi drifted two decades back, taking a moment to look up the early statistics of future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.
Girardi won't suggest that Chamberlain will have the kind of success Maddux enjoyed over a 355-win career, but he wanted to illustrate a point. Maddux's first full year as a starter was wrought with struggles, and if the Cubs could wait patiently then, perhaps the Yankees can do the same now.
"This is not necessarily an easy place to play, and it's not an easy game to play," Girardi said. "You make adjustments as you get more starts under your belt and you try to improve on every start. The expectations are so high, and I think it's unfair for him."
One major difference, of course, is that when Maddux went 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA in 1987, his Cubs were on their way to a sixth-place finish. Girardi's Yankees have no such luxury, expected to contend this season and knowing that no playoffs will likely mean a new manager in 2010.
The debate took on a new note on Saturday, just hours after Chamberlain gave back a pair of four-run leads and accepted a weak no-decision in New York's 10-6 loss at Angel Stadium. In Chamberlain's last two starts, he has allowed 13 runs (seven earned) and 18 hits in just eight innings, consistently chewing up the Yankees' bullpen.
"He's getting into a lot of deep counts, hitters are seeing a lot of pitches and he's getting predictable at times," Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "That being said, we've got to remember that he's a 23-year-old kid.
"He's learning how to be a starter in this league. That's not as easy as it looks. Joba came on the scene and set the world on fire, and people expect him to be perfect all the time. That's not going to be."
After Friday's start, Chamberlain struck a defensive tone, stating that he had shown his best stuff and best mechanics of the season in his last two efforts. He dismissed a 29-pitch second inning that included a walk and a wild pitch, saying that the Angels had only scored one run.
"There's no excuses, but what are you going to do about it?" Chamberlain said. "You can't change it. The sun will come up tomorrow and I'll be the same person I was the day before."
Mechanically, Eiland believes Chamberlain is fine, but not perfect. The bigger issue is with Chamberlain's pitch selection, which has proven questionable at times. Eiland said that Chamberlain's mental state has not been affected.
"Confidence-wise, he's fine," Eiland said. "He feels good, he knows his stuff is good, and he knows mechanically he's pretty sound. It's a couple of bad starts. So what?"
Chamberlain's velocity is off where it was as a reliever, and it has even been clocked consistently lower than on June 1, when he held the Indians to two runs over eight innings at Progressive Field. Yet Eiland said that these deficiencies were not completely unexpected when the Yankees formulated their master plan for Chamberlain.
"We all knew that he wasn't going to come in here as a starter and throw 97, 98 mph and dominate like he was in the setup [role]," Eiland said. "That's crazy to think that he was going to be that sort of starter. He's in a little bit of a rough skid right now, and that happens to everybody."
Girardi said that he is sometimes confused by the amount of attention that is heaped upon Chamberlain, noting that the Yankees actually have a larger problem with the absence of the injured Chien-Ming Wang from their starting rotation.
Alfredo Aceves faltered in a spot start on Thursday at Minnesota and the Yankees have still not officially decided who will start the next time that opening comes around. But all indications seem to be that Sergio Mitre will have his contract purchased from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the All-Star break.
"We have concerns about our fifth starter, too, and we spend more time talking about our fourth starter than we do our fifth starter," Girardi said.
Not that the discussion isn't justified -- if there was an easy solution, Chamberlain said, he would have already incorporated it.
Whatever it is, the Yankees hope it will be found for the second half, which Chamberlain began to prepare for in a sweaty post-start run around the Angel Stadium warning track on Saturday morning.
"I see it in his face," Girardi said. "I see that he's not happy with what he's done. He's trying to get better every day."
Chamberlain might never get back to the "Joba-mania" level he enjoyed as a reliever in 2007 and '08, when crowds roared upon his entrance, 'Joba Rules' T-shirts sold briskly and the Yankee Stadium video crew came up with special Star Wars-themed graphics to announce his arrival.
But the Yankees do believe he has the ability to become a top-notch starting pitcher, and they would love to see more progress soon.
"Pitching one inning is different than pitching seven innings," Girardi said. "It's easy to dominate for an inning, but it's really hard to dominate for seven innings. I think people sometimes look at a one-inning guy and say, 'Oh, it's going to happen for seven innings every night.' That's unfair to expect."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.