That Joba Chamberlain kid, he sure can pitch.
One day after getting his official bullpen assignment for the start of the season, Joba entered the game as a reliever and blew away a few Blue Jays kids. Eleven pitches later, Joba found himself with three strike outs. It was a vintage Joba performance, if a pitcher with 24 MLB innings under his belt can be considered vintage.
In the post-game interviews, he shared some comments with Peter Abraham:
“It felt great. Just getting going, it’s like riding a bike. … I was more aggressive; just attack the zone. You let your competitive edge and your abilities take over. I think I did a better job of throwing my slider. It was back to the slider that I’m used to throwing and not trying to baby it.”
A couple of points worry me in this quote. Let’s unpack it.
First, Joba notes that he was more aggressive in attacking the zone as a reliever because he let his “competitive edge and…abilities take over.” This indicates to me that Joba the Starter spends more time — perhaps too much time? — thinking through his role as a starting pitcher.
Sports psychology tends to get a short shrift in a world in which athletes are supposed to represent some sort of ideal man, but starting pitchers have four days to prepare. The mind takes over. In one-inning stints that arise when the situation of the game dictates it, a pitcher can leave his thoughts at the door. If Joba is overanalyzing his starts, I’m concerned. He has the stuff to be a starter; he needs to overcome that tendency to suppress his competitive edge.
Next, I am no fan of hearing Joba discuss his approach to his slider right here. Supposedly, he was trying to baby his slider, and I think anyone that saw him pitch earlier in the spring would believe that. During his longer appearances, it seemed as though he was trying to be too fine with his breaking pitchers. Instead of attacking the zone, he was trying to nibble at the corners. He wanted the called strike instead of the swing-and-miss strike. With a 90 mile-per-hour slider, just attack the zone.
Again, this is an issue of mentality. Joba has to translate that reliever mentality into a starter’s mentality. He had accomplished this in the Minors, and I have to wonder if moving him into a high-octane role as a late-inning reliever pushed back some of that mental development.
Right now, I’m not complaining. Joba turns Yankee games into seven-inning affairs. But I’d hate to see this become an issue down the road.