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06/19/08 7:20 PM ET

Joba showing signs of dominance

Yanks righty hits 100 pitches for first time while striking out nine

NEW YORK -- Joba Chamberlain took the mound in his fourth Major League start free from the limitations of a pitch count Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

He didn't toss a record number of innings or even pick up his first win as a starter. But after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning and striking out a career-high nine, there wasn't any doubt that he belonged in the starting rotation.

"He has the ability to strike people out," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's one of the reasons that we think he can be a dominant starter. He can get in those situations, and he has the ability to get out of them by himself."

When Chamberlain walked Tony Clark to load the bases with no outs, the number of pitches Chamberlain had on the board was irrelevant. He faced a different sort of threat, but the right-hander said he was prepared for the pressure.

"You get up in the morning when you're washing your hair and brushing your teeth, and you know you're going to have to get yourself out of a jam," he said. "That's what we do."

From that moment, Chamberlain took charge of the second inning. He kept control and used four fastballs and a slider to strike out Scott Hairston.

The righty was ready to do whatever it took to keep the Padres off the scoreboard, including a block at the plate. When he threw a pitch in the dirt to Khalil Greene, Adrian Gonzalez took off for home.

A catcher until his junior year in high school, Chamberlain followed his instinct -- albeit a dangerous one -- to block the runner, and he caught the throw from catcher Jose Molina to tag Gonzalez out.

"You don't like to see pitchers do that, but Joba is going to protect that plate," Girardi said. "You love to see that, and you love to see the grittiness."

Chamberlain finished off Greene with a strikeout to end the frame and hold the game scoreless. He gave up just four hits and one run. But after he struck out the first two batters he faced in the sixth inning, his pitch total had reached 100, and Girardi decided that was enough.

"He has the ability to strike people out. That's one of the reasons that we think he can be a dominant starter. He can get in those situations, and he has the ability to get out of them by himself."
-- Joe Girardi

"He's throwing a lot of strikes and he's not walking a lot of people," the manager said. "He's using his fastball a lot, and he's using his other pitches. With 100 pitches, you'd like to see him get through the sixth [inning], but it was close today."

Chamberlain was ready to plead his case to stay in the game, and Girardi knew it. So he signaled to the bullpen before walking out to the mound to take out his starter.

Chamberlain said he felt well enough physically to stay in the game, but he handed the ball off and tipped his hat to the crowd as he made his way to the dugout.

"I've learned to be patient in the short time that I've been here," Chamberlain said. "As a competitor, you want to stay out there. I felt good, and I battled back [against Chase Headley] to get the strikeout, but I understand the guys that come behind me are just as good, so it's easy to give him the ball."

The starter gave credit to the Yankees' offense and the bullpen for Thursday's 2-1 victory and the entire seven-game winning streak the team is riding. But third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who drove in the game-winning run, pointed directly to Chamberlain as an essential factor in the team's success.

"If you don't have guys like Joba, plain and simple, you can't win championships," he said.

Despite putting forth what he considered his best outing as a starter, Chamberlain picked up his fourth straight no-decision Thursday. But as long as he continues to help his team stay on the winning track, the right-hander said personal victories are not a priority.

"It doesn't matter, as long as I continue to keep my team in the game," Chamberlain said. "Wins are going to come."

Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.