By Jon Lane
Learning. Maturing. Those were the operative words that came out of Joba Chamberlain’s start Friday night. In holding the Red Sox to three runs on five hits in six innings he earned his first win since August 6 against Boston, snapped an eight-start winless stretch and trimmed the Yankees’ magic number to three.
Best of all, he looked at himself in the mirror and accepted responsibility. In no uncertain terms, Joe Girardi and his coaches told Chamberlain, time to grow up. And when Chamberlain’s night was over, pitching coach Dave Eiland told him in the dugout, good job, great attack and remember what this feels like. For good measure, Chamberlain was awarded the WWE Championship belt as Yankees Player of the Game as decided on by his teammates.
“There comes a point in your career where you look at yourself in the mirror,” Chamberlain said. “I needed to do that.
“As a man you take a challenge and you do two things with it. You either step up or you run away from it. I’ve
never ran away from anything in my life and I’m not going to start now.
It’s going to take a lot more than a couple of bad starts to get me out
of my rhythm. When you have a coach like that who tells you like it is,
not only as a coach but as a person, it’s really gratifying.”
Another encouraging sign: Chamberlain’s rapport with Jorge Posada. The two were in sync to where Chamberlain believed it was the best connection had all season.
“It’s pretty easy when Georgie is on the same page with me,” Chamberlain said. “That’s probably the best we’ve been, on the same page, in a few starts. When you’re on the mound and you what he’s going to call, and he knows what you want, it’s pretty easy to stay in that rhythm. You keep your teammates in the game.”
Girardi wouldn’t formally commit to a playoff spot, or anything beyond Wednesday when Chamberlain makes his final start of the regular season. Perceptions change in this city faster than blinks of an eye, but bet on Chamberlain playing a big role in the playoffs, bigger that than of Chad Gaudin. Gaudin may be a reliable arm, but Chamberlain is a future franchise pitcher. It’s time for him to earn his stars and stripes.
“It’s an important time of year and we told him we needed him to step up,” Girardi said. “He did tonight. We told him we know he’s capable of pitching better and we need him do it.”
When he gets that chance, the handcuffs are off. There won’t be any finite number to fret about.
“That’s all over with,” Chamberlain said.
A few quick notes before wrapping up.
? Jon Lester, day-to-day with a right quad bruise, wants to make his next start. Terry Francona tends to agree, but is still proceeding with caution.
“When it first happened, it sounded and looked terrible,” Francona said. “He got X-rays done and they came back clean. He actually might be right on turn for his next start, but we’ll see how he feels and figure out the right thing to do.”
My two cents: Rest that knee and fine-tune him for Game 1 of the ALDS in Anaheim.
? The Yankees’ seven stolen bases was their most since swiping eight on June 2, 1996.
? The Red Sox must hate playing at Yankee Stadium. They’ve been outscored 34-13 their last five games here.
By Jon Lane
The fact that the Yankees are 32-22 and tied for first place is nice enough. How they continue to find ways to win along with an unshakable confidence that there’s always a chance to win is one of the remarkable storylines of the season. Even during an eventual loss Wednesday night, cameras caught A.J. Burnett gesturing to his teammates, “That’s one,” after Jorge Posada’s seventh-inning home run trimmed the Yankees’ deficit from three to two.
There’s an amazing vibe around the team that has carried over to every game. Melky Cabrera’s eighth-inning heroics on Thursday led the Yankees to their league-leading 19th come-from-behind victory and it was the second time they rallied from down at least four runs.
“I think our club feels that we could come back at any time,” said Joe Girardi. “Sometimes when we don’t get it done we feel like, ‘Wow, we didn’t get it done.’ There is confidence in that clubhouse. Keep us close and give us a chance.”
Jerome Preisler was with me at the game outlines a series of subplots that defined the win, including Cabrera ducking Burnett’s attempt at another pie to the face.
Don’t look now, but the beleaguered bullpen has allowed only one run over their last 11 innings (Ian Kinsler’s solo homer off Alfredo Aceves on Thursday). During the Yankees’ current 17-5 run, relievers are averaging more than three innings a game and are 6-3 with a 3.15 ERA.
David Robertson, who needed to throw only one pitch to earn the win, is 5-0 in his career with two one-pitch victories, owns a 2.08 ERA in 11 appearances this season and may finally stick around awhile.
“Guys are starting to settle into their roles now,” said pitching coach Dave Eiland. “Early on, guys were pitching out of their roles and the starters weren’t going as deep in their games, and guys not used to going multiple innings were going multiple innings and came back on shorter rest. It starts and stops with starting pitching. If they can take us to the middle or late innings, the bullpen has a way of working itself out.”
By Jon Lane
As we begin a new week, the top storyline in Yankeeland is the alarming situation surrounding Chien-Ming Wang. I wrote last week that Wang didn’t suddenly forget how to pitch and afforded him until mid-May before drawing any conclusions. Little did I know that Wang would surrender eight runs on eight hits in 1 1/3 innings on Saturday that saddled him with an ERA of 34.50.
Suddenly, someone who entered the season with 54 wins in 97 big-league starts could find himself being skipped over his next start, scheduled for Friday night in Boston. You can’t throw Wang out there, you just can’t. Study the pitching lines of his first three outings:
April 8: 3 2/3 IP, 7 ER, 9 H
April 13: 1 IP, 8 ER, 6 H
April 18: 1 1/3 IP, 8 ER, 8 H
Not a pretty picture. Neither is Wang’s career 5.11 ERA in seven starts at Fenway Park. And when the idea of sending Wang to the Minors to follow the path of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, two aces who had to go back to the beginning before evolving into Cy Young Award winners, Joe Girardi clarified why that’s not feasible.
Wang is out of options and cannot be sent down without exposing him to waivers, which means it’ll take about the average time Wang has lasted in his three starts for another team to scoop him up. Since Wang, Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland continue to insist the right-hander is healthy, the only alternative to exposing him to the Fenway wolves is giving him a good nine days to repair his mechanics and confidence.
Our Kimberly Jones guesses that Wang will throw a simulated game either on Thursday’s off day or Friday, perhaps in Tampa. She also shared a suggestion from Brian Bruney which raises an excellent point. Like Wang, Bruney recovered from a Lisfranc injury and he believes that Wang has not re-gained the trust of his push-off foot, the same foot that was injured last June in Houston. What bothers me the most is how Wang said yesterday that after watching video he believes there are no mechanical differences from this season to last season, which went against what Girardi said. Denial is worse that any physical ailment. The first step to figuring out why you’re not pitching well is to admit something is wrong.
Wang, 29, is a major investment for the Yankees today and tomorrow. Taking the next nine days to figure out some sort of solution won’t hurt the team as this stage. A.J. Burnett can be slotted into Wang’s space on Friday with the rest of the starters on their regular turns until the Yankees need a fifth starter April 29 in Detroit. If the sabbatical fails to work, you’re looking at the increasing likelihood of Phil Hughes being recalled from Triple-A Scranton and Wang serving as the long reliever the Yankees decided not to take up north.
Back later with tonight’s lineups.
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