Joba needs more work -- in the Minors

Chamberlain struggling since big-league return and fine-tuning necessary
08/21/2012 10:44 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Chamberlain's performance has the Yankees concerned to where a Minors stint could be an option.(AP)


To his credit, Joba Chamberlain stood before his locker inside the Yankees’ clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago following his involvement in an ugly 9-6 loss to the White Sox. Most often, Chamberlain is affable, but even when a bit abrasive he’s willing to take hits nearly as hard as he’s absorbed since returning to Major Leagues after a 14-month absence.

Facing and taking the searing heat from the New York media, Chamberlain was asked by YES’ Meredith Marakovits what he believes have been the biggest issues since coming back from both Tommy John surgery and a dislocated ankle. Even after that ghastly ankle injury suffered in March, a time when he was making great strides in rehabbing his elbow, Chamberlain had the answers. He was resolute his career wasn’t prematurely over, and he would be back in 2012 and not 2013.

On Monday night, Chamberlain had nothing, both on the mound and in the clubhouse. His answer may end up a metaphor for what could be coming next.

“If I knew I'd figure it out,” Chamberlain said. “It's obviously getting back to the board and seeing what I can do. You have to figure out what it is and keep going.”

The hard reality is that the drawing board may end up back in Triple-A, perhaps for the remainder of the season. Chamberlain returned on August 1 and has since allowed seven runs, 15 hits and 19 base runners in 6.2 innings, good for an ERA of 9.45. CC Sabathia is steadfast in his belief he’ll come off the disabled list to start Friday against the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees will have to make a move and are suddenly devoid of a right-handed arm for middle relief. They love David Phelps as both a starter and a bullpen weapon in potentially the seventh inning, so forget about the thought of him pitching in the Minors to stay sharp until rosters expand on September 1. Despite a bad outing on Monday, Derek Lowe could still be useful down the stretch.

That leaves Chamberlain as the odd man out. Joe Girardi justifiably did not make any rash decisions following the loss, but did leave the door open to the chance it will be Chamberlain as the one to go.

“I don't anticipate us making any changes tonight," Girardi said. “There’s some inconsistencies. We thought he can get some outs for us and he’s struggled a little bit trying tonight. We have to try to get him right. He's got to help us. He's got to help us.”

One could make the argument Chamberlain was “rushed back” to the Majors, but the truth is he allowed only one earned run in 9 1/3 innings over seven rehab appearances while throwing in the mid-to-upper 90s. By the time the Yankees traded Chad Qualls to Pittsburgh for Casey McGehee, Chamberlain’s assignment was close to its end anyway and an opening developed in the bullpen.

Granting Chamberlain a chance to pitch down the stretch of a pennant race was a reward based on results and how he defied the odds. Soon after he ran out of the bullpen on August 1 to a rousing ovation, Chamberlain allowed a home run on his second pitch and was tagged for four hits while getting only five outs with a fastball that suddenly dipped into the low 90s. No big deal, right? He warranted a chance to get his timing back. But the struggles continued and, including Monday night, Chamberlain has given up three runs on six hits in two innings over his last two appearances.

The implication is clear: Something’s wrong.

“Obviously, it is frustrating,” Chamberlain said. “But you can't give up. You can't shut it down and not work and be like, 'Oh well, this is it, it's 14 months.' That's not an excuse. It's obviously a factor but when you're off 14 months of anything at the big league level it's gonna take time. Do I want to be perfect? Yeah, and it's frustrating when it's not.”

If Chamberlain is to get it together and salvage 2012, it’s in his best interests to do it in the Minors. The Yankees can recall him anytime after rosters expand, or perhaps decide to shut him down for the year and develop a slow-cooked plan for 2013 to determine once and for all if he’ll ever be a long-term answer. He’s only 26 so there’s still time, but the way things are going Chamberlain is merely on borrowed time, so it’s time to figure out how to fill yet another bullpen void and help one of their homegrown kids try and decipher another puzzle.

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