Joba eases right back into relief role
Right-hander handles ninth inning in spring tilt vs. Tigers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain might have forgotten how long the jog in from the bullpen would be, but he certainly remembered what to do once he got to the mound.
Making his first relief appearance since being reinstated to the bullpen, Chamberlain's fastball was clocked as high as 94 mph and his slider produced a game-ending strikeout as the Yankees defeated the Tigers, 2-1, on Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium.
"It was good. I threw too many pitches in the bullpen, but that's probably the biggest adjustment," Chamberlain said. "As far as routine, it was great, just trying to find out how many pitches you need down there."
After spending most of the spring building up to be New York's fifth starter, Chamberlain needed only his fastball and slider to record three Detroit outs, pitching around a couple of singles and inducing a double play before locking down a save when Scott Sizemore whiffed at an 85-mph slider.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi called the outing "positive" for Chamberlain, a continuation of the good results that the 24-year-old produced last year in the postseason after making 31 starts during the regular season.
Down the stretch last year, Girardi saw Chamberlain dive back into his bullpen mentality when his innings restrictions made starting impossible, and the Yankees are asking him to repeat that transition quickly before Opening Night arrives.
"He went back to eighth inning mode [in 2009], where you can lock in on what you need to do for one inning -- three hitters, four hitters," Girardi said. "You don't have to think about going through a lineup three or four times. I thought he did it very quickly. It was almost like, 'I've done this, I know how to do this, I'm going to do it.'"
Similarly, it must have helped that the revolving questions about Chamberlain's role for 2010 have been answered, at least for the time being.
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"There's always a sense of knowing what you're doing, when you get a definite answer to what's going on," Chamberlain said. "It's just one of those things where you've got to embrace it and be honored to be in that position, and try to learn and get better every day."
Chamberlain said that he felt a little anxiety heading to the mound Saturday, even though it was a Spring Training game, and his "amped-up" emotions out of the bullpen have been regarded as one of his plusses for assuming the role.
"You know your room for error is so much smaller," Chamberlain said. "You're either going to win the game or lose the game on one pitch sometimes. That's the mind-set you have."
Girardi is not necessarily handing Chamberlain the eighth-inning role, where he made his debut in 2007, saying that he also wants to consider the Yankees' other relievers. But all signs point to Chamberlain having a good chance to reclaim the duties.
It is even possible that Girardi will consider having Chamberlain enter in the seventh inning and pitch two frames on occasion, delivering the ball to closer Mariano Rivera for the ninth -- the same way Rivera set up for John Wetteland in 1996.
"I think it's something that you can look at," Girardi said. "A lot of that would depend on the group as a whole, and how they're doing, and how he's doing. Mo did it very well in '96; probably as good as it's ever been done. Because [Chamberlain] is stretched out, he has the ability to do that."
Bit by bit, those decisions will begin to be sorted out as the Yankees play on toward their April 4 meeting with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. For Saturday, Chamberlain was content with his first Grapefruit League save of 2010, quickly shrugging off a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he might be pitching to impress for the closer's job.
"There's somebody in front of me that I think you guys may have heard of," Chamberlain said. "I'm going with the intent that I'm probably going to lose that one. I don't think there's many contenders for that one."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.