On the night after their current ace disappointed, the Yankees’ hopeful future ace answered with a gem. Joba Chamberlain, the focus of ire and all sorts of ill-will before the All-Star Break, made his third straight excellent start, tearing down the Rays in impressive fashion. He worked fast and economized pitches, lasting eight innings and allowing no runs and just five baserunners. The Yankees offense mustered a few off Matt Garza, and even a late-inning hiccup couldn’t derail the Yankees as they steamrolled the Rays, 6-2.
Joba looked as good as he has all season — all of his starting career, really. He mixed his pitches, and even though his fastball averaged just over 92 miles per hour, he had enough control to compensate. Overall he threw 65 of 101 pitches for strikes, among his best marks of the season. He mixed it well with a curve which didn’t seem to have its best bite, and a slider he threw for strikes seemingly at will. He kept the Rays off balance all night, inducing swings and misses, ground balls, pop ups, and lazy flies.
Last night was example A-number-one of why the Yankees have displayed patience with Joba. Even on a night when he wasn’t pumping 95 mph fastballs, he was still able to hit his spots and throw his breaking ball for strikes. He controlled the pace of the game, inducing first-pitch swings — seven total, five of which resulted in immediate outs — and generally keeping the Rays off kilter. That’s pitching, not throwing, and it’s encouraging to see that from Joba.
Here’s a question I’ve been thinking on lately, and especially after last night’s performance. Does Joba absolutely need his best velocity to be a top-flight pitcher? If his last three starts are any indicator, he might not. At least, not all the time. It seems he cruises along at 92 until he hits trouble, and then dials it up when needed. On nights like tonight he doesn’t have to go up to 95, 96. He can use his command and especially command of his slider to win games.
If that’s what Joba Chamberlain can be, a guy who can cruise along at less than full capacity, with the ability to dial it up consistently when he really needs it, well, then I don’t see how you can give up on him. He’s not going to do it every time, especially not at this age. But if this is a preview for things to come and he can become one of the top pitchers in the league, then the Yankees just need to keep doing what they’re doing.
If the Yankees keep trotting out their starter in order, Joba will face Toronto on Tuesday after an off-day. His next start would then be Sunday against Boston. The Yankees could do that, or they could make a move to 1) give Joba a breather, 2) manage his innings, and 3) get their top four pitchers in the four games against Boston. If they skip Joba on Monday, they could go Pettitte and Mitre on regular rest in Toronto. They’d then have Burnett-CC-Joba-Pettitte against Boston at the Stadium. I credit Axisa with turning me onto the idea. It works on just about every level.
The offense went just 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position, but compensated with a troika of solo shots. Cano hit a no doubt about it bomb in the sixth to extend the Yanks’ lead to 3-0. It was a blind man’s homer: the sound alone told you how far it was going to travel. Melky smoked a ball down the line in the ninth, and Teixeira followed it up with a long homer to center. The Yanks even mustered an early run on a ground out, though it was bittersweet. They had second and third with none out and could only manage that solitary run. Thankfully, Joba was around to keep the Rays at bay.
Every Yankees starter reached base at least once, though Johnny Damon was the only one left hitless. Derek Jeter hit his first triple since early last year, and Mark Teixeira had an impressive 2 for 3 night, including the aforementioned homer. The game illustrated the tenacity of the Yankees offense. Gardner and Melky are the only two regulars with an OPS+ below 119. Eight Yankees have 10 or more homers, and Melky has nine. The player with the lowest batting average, Nick Swisher at .239, has a .368 OBP.
The game wasn’t without controversy. Apparently Matt Garza didn’t like the fastball that sailed three feet over Evan Longoria’s head, so he plunked Mark Teixeira in the top of the next inning. Worse, he admitted it. “I just kind of got tired of people brushing him back. It’s about time someone made a statement.” That statement will likely result in a suspension for Garza. If you’re going to hit someone, have the good mind to keep your mouth shut.
On a final note, the Yankees got their daily checklist out of the way nice and early. First up, a Johnny Damon broken bat, which happened in the first. Then in the fourth came the Mark Teixeira excellent play of the day. Finally, in the fourth Nick Swisher worked a full count. Seems at least two of three happen every game.
The Yanks now head to Chicago for a four-game set against the White Sox, who are coming off a sweep at the hands of the Twins. They’re now in third place in the AL Central, and the Yanks could do the Twins and Tigers a big favor this weekend. They could also do themselves a solid and continue to extend their lead over the Sox, which moved to 3.5 games today after Oakland took care of business. Also, the Dodgers and Cardinals are headed to the 15th as I type this. Should the Cards prevail, the Yanks will be tied for the best record in baseball. LIfe is good right now.