I missed most of Sunday’s season finale against the Rays. I was perusing the Atlantic Antic today in Brooklyn while keeping track of the game via MLB.com’s mobile site. I arrived back home just in time for the all-important seventh inning when Joba Chamberlain made his 2009 relief debut.
Earlier in the day, I had read all about the Yanks’ plans for Joba. As they can do with a series in which they need to use only three starters, the Yankees plan on loading up their bullpen with guys who can get outs. To that end, Chamberlain will more likely than not be available for relief work during the ALDS before potentially moving back to the rotation for Game 4 of the ALCS.
Initially, I was skeptical of this move (and still am) due to the fact that Joba has been rather abysmal in his first inning of work this year. In 31 first innings, he has allowed 37 hits, 12 walks and 21 runs. Opponents are hitting .301/.360/.504 against him in 136 first inning plate appearances. Considering that a reliever generally pitches only one inning, those early-game struggles do not bode well for Joba Chamberlain out of the pen.
Apparently, though, everyone else was pretty excited about Joba’s return to the pen. Bryan Hoch called it a revision to the 2009 Joba Rules. Mark Feinsand noted that Joba would return to his “old role,” never mind that Joba had always been a starter until necessity knocked in 2007.
During the game, Joba blew everyone away!! Or so the story goes. Unfortunately, pitch f/x caught just four of Joba’s seven pitches, but he was sitting where he has been all season. His fastball topped out at 95 and his slider had some bite. It was Joba the starter on his good days but just transported to the bullpen. Not to take away from a crisp inning, but Joba was certainly helped out by the fact that he faced three guys hitting a combined .244 with a .395 slugging. Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel this was not.
After the game, the media went gaga over Joba. Feinsand called him “a man on fire” and noted his seemingly increased fastball velocity based on the Tampa gun. Sam Borden, somewhat skeptically, called him the “old” Joba. Tyler Kepner, a somewhat recent convert from the B-Jobber position, noted how comfortable Joba looked. Kepner noted the 95-mph fastball too, but again, that was nothing we hadn’t seen from Joba this year. When he’s regularly hitting 98/99/100 out of the pen, we can chat.
Echoing David Cone’s in-game comments, even the Yanks’ skipper noted Joba the reliever. “He looked a little different,” Joe Girardi said after the game. “Starting is different than relieving; one inning is different than asking a guy to go seven or eight. You don’t necessarily need to use all your pitches, so you can pitch a little different.”
The truth is that Joba threw exactly one inning of seven pitches against three weak hitters in a low-stress situation. He showed that he can warm up to come out of the bullpen, and he showed how good he can be when he’s throwing well against bad hitters he should dominate. As Phil Hughes has shown this year, Joba illustrated the simple baseball truth that good starters make excellent relievers.
I’m sure over the course of the next few weeks, Joba will be called upon to get some key outs as a reliever, and he’ll rise to the task. We’ll have the same old bullpen/starting pitcher debate all over again. There is, though, but one simple truth. To paraphrase a famous New York City radio personality, Joba Chamberlain is a starting pitcher.