By Jon Lane
This debate will never end. And there are plenty of you passionate enough in your belief that the Yankees are best served with Joba Chamberlain as part of a one-two lockdown with Mariano Rivera by virtue of our homepage poll which suggests that Phil Hughes should start over Chamberlain (1,063 votes to 1,039).
Ain’t gonna happen. Chamberlain threw three scoreless innings on Monday. That was his second consecutive solid outing in which his fastball showed live, his breaking pitches bite and the moxie that’s part of his makeup. That’s something you need through the course of a 150 innings and a full season, rather than cameo appearances that aren’t guaranteed every day or every other day.
Straying from the quick-fix approach that has brought them names like Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kenny Lofton and Tony Womack (to name only a few), the Yankees aren’t building just for 2009. They’re building a program, one that in the age of revenue sharing that in part kicked them off their perch as kings of baseball, will keep them competitive for years and years. Joba Chamberlain, who has all the makings of an ace, is part of that program and his development should not be stunted in any way.
If you don’t take my word for it, Mark Feinsand lays it all out in The New York Daily News. And in his blog, Feinsand asks pertinent questions to pitching coach Dave Eiland to justify the organization’s belief that its best interest lies with Joba the starter.
For those of you who will always believe in Joba the reliever, you’re justified and have evidence to back you up. The problem I had with a few tabloids calling for the Yankees to put him back in the bullpen was that it came off his first few Spring Training starts. Spring Training, folks. If it were anyone else you’d chalk it up to building arm strength, experimenting with new pitches and getting into a rhythm that will best serve you over a long season. Because it was Chamberlain, unproven as a full-time starter yet amazing in an eighth-inning role, he was deemed a failure as a starter.
Imagine if Chamberlain were to pitch out of a the bullpen and he’d blow two or three one-run leads in the eighth over a stretch of a couple of weeks. Would anyone demand the Yankees move him back into the rotation? It doesn’t work that way. It was determined after the 2008 season that Chamberlain was to be a starter, and that he’d have all winter and a full Spring Training to prepare with the mentality of being a starter. You cannot yank him in out of roles like a yo-yo. That’s when you’re really asking for trouble.
Fear not though, loyal members of the Joba-to-the-bullpen army. He may end up in the bullpen again – as part of the Yankees’ postseason roster. To echo Feinsand, Chamberlain would reach his innings cap by October and since he’s the fifth starter, you’d have your top four guns start playoff games while Chamberlain contributes from the back end of the pen. The Yankees have to get there first and that’s far from a guarantee. Just look at last season: The Yankees won 89 games but finished third in the AL East and were deemed a failure. Like it is every year, 2009 is winning time. The best way to get there is to have a future No. 1 as your No. 5