The main storyline going into last night’s game being pushed by the MSM was the Burnett-Posada relationship and how it would affect the game. But with both starters exiting in a 4-4 tie by the 5th inning, last night’s game quickly became a battle of the bullpens. The Red Sox bullpen did their job, with the noticeable exception of Okijima, who has struggled against the Yanks in recent years. Aceves held the Sox off for 2 innings, but the 8th inning was where things really got interesting. With a 1 run lead, Girardi called on Dave Robertson to start the frame, who promptly gave up a single to Youkilis. Damaso Marte came in to get Ortiz, but allowed Youkilis to go to 2nd base on an errant throw to First base. Ortiz flied out to Center, and out of the dugout came the Yankee manager, calling on Joba Chamberlain to put out the fire with the game on the line.
One quick observation, Joba jiggled noticeably as he jogged out of the bullpen and onto the mound. He’s had weight issues in the past, and it’s something I’ve noticed since the middle of last year. I can’t help but wonder how much that played into the decision to send him to the set up role, that he’s simply not dedicated to conditioning himself enough that the Yanks fear he won’t hold up as a starter. Pitchers get hurt when they tire, and Joba’s physique resembles that of Bobby Jenks more than that of Roy Halladay, or even Phil Hughes for that matter.
Onto last night’s game. Joba was masterful, striking out Beltre and JD Drew with just 9 pitches. Working low in the zone with 94-97 MPH fastballs and then coming up with a high 80′s slider that the bottom dropped out of. He even finished off the night with one of his trademark fist pumps, as the picture above shows. That’s the pitcher we saw burst out of the minors late in the 07 season. Considering that it’s early April and he’s always been a slow starter, we can expect him to add a few ticks as the season progresses, and the long standing velocity questions can finally be put to rest.
On Joba’s part, he seems to be embracing the setup role without any hesitation or regret whatsoever. Check out these quotes from last night’s post game:
In any case, when asked about his show of emotion afterward, he shrugged and said, “That’s who I am.”
With those words, Chamberlain may have finally closed the door on two years of debate about whether he should be a starter or a reliever. Indeed, surely that debate is over now, for here he was again, cranking his fastball up to 97 mph on his strikeout of Beltre, and hitting 95 a couple of other times.
Whether it’s adrenaline or mind-set, it’s a blow-away velocity he just doesn’t reach as a starter. Chamberlain acknowledged as much last night.
“You can’t let it fly for five or six innings,” he said. “You can’t physically do it. This is a one-inning game.”
So make no mistake: some of this is about keeping Chamberlain motivated, pushing him to embrace his return to the pen.
Don’t think Joba doesn’t know it either.
“Joe does a tremendous job of challenging people,” was the way he put it Tuesday night. “But of course I want that role. It’s something I take pride in.”
He doesn’t sound to me like someone who’s sulking over losing his gig as the #5 starter. He sounds to me like someone who loves this role. Brian Cashman may call him ‘a starter in the bullpen’, but I have trouble seeing this decision ever being reversed. There’s too much organizational momentum behind it, and Joba himself seems to embrace it.
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