By Jon Lane
Joba Chamberlain makes his third Spring Training start tonight against the Reds (YES HD, 7 p.m.). Normally that’s considered ho-hum, but Chamberlain is not just any other pitcher. He’s the prized jewel of the farm system and has already achieved cult status amongst the Yankees’ fan base.
Here’s the problem: Chamberlain’s first two spring starts were awful. He threw 28 pitches last Thursday in an exhibition game against Team Canada and walked four, including Justin Morneau and Jason Bay with the bases loaded, and failed to record an out. In his first start, he gave up two runs in three hits in only an inning.
Can Joba suddenly be on notice? George King writes that another brutal outing from Chamberlain and there will be questions: Is the shoulder OK? Is he better off in the bullpen? Or might he not make the team?
Including the exhibition game against Team USA, Phil Hughes, destined to begin the season in the Minors, has allowed two runs in 7 2/3 scoreless innings with three walks and eight strikeouts. I’m just sayin’.
“We want to see progress,” Joe Girardi told reporters of Chamberlain. “We want to see him a little bit more mechanically sound. That’s important because there is a direct correlation between mechanics and strikes.”
Let’s be fair: This is Spring Training, which means pitchers try different things and aren’t expected to ratchet it up and illuminate the radar gun with large numbers. In his first start, Chamberlain threw almost exclusively four-seam fastballs and has spent time after the Team Canada outing making adjustments to mechanical flaws by pitching coach Dave Eiland.
Furthermore, Jim Kaat, who knows a thing or two about pitching, sums it up this way: Pitchers are just trying to build up their arm strength, stamina and form. If a pitcher doesn’t look like he’s throwing his best stuff in his first few games, it’s because he isn’t.
A good performance from Chamberlain tonight and this debate is moot. But if he struggles again, is it time to panic? Would his status as the fifth starter be on shaky ground? What do you think?