In his first major league start last Tuesday, Joba Chamberlain was both inefficient and undermined by his pitch count. The Blue Jays entered the game with a game plan of taking pitches to get Chamberlain out of the game, and it worked like a charm. Chamberlain is a swing-and-miss pitcher who has thus far in his major league career succeeded by fooling hitters with nose-diving sliders and blowing them away with fastballs that are often above the strike zone. By letting those pitches go by, the Jays were able to draw four walks and drive Chamberlain from the game after just 2 1/3 innings despite picking up just one hit, a weak single through the infield.
Today, with a higher pitch limit and facing a less accomplished team, Chamberlain faced 18 batters before walking one, and pitched into the fifth inning despite throwing just 16 more pitches than in his previous start. In his first start, Chamberlain threw just one more than half of his pitches for strikes, but facing the Royals today, he threw 68 percent of his 78 pitches for strikes. In his first start he threw just two curveballs and otherwise stuck to his fastball and slider. Today, he threw eight curveballs and three changeups.
Chamberlain has thus far displayed a tendency to use those secondary pitches early in the count to get ahead and set up his two out-pitches. Of the eight curveballs Chamberlain threw today, five were first-pitch called strikes and a sixth was a called strike on an 1-0 count (the other two were taken for balls). One of the two curves he threw in his last start was also a first-pitch called strike (the other was a ball). Of his three changeups today, one was a first-pitch called strike and the other two were thrown back-to-back on 0-1 and 1-1 (the first, obviously, was a ball, the second was fouled off to get him to 1-2).
Chamberlain’s first changeup came during his second time through the Royals’ order. The back-to-back changes came against Kansas City leadoff hitter David DeJesus as Chamberlain turned over the order a second time. DeJesus was Chamberlain’s last batter of the day and wound up walking on a curveball at the end of an eight-pitch confrontation. That was Chamberlain’s only walk of the day and it was obvious at that point that the big righty was winded. Working beyond his previous limits in 95-degree heat, Chamberlain maintained his fastball through the first four innings, hitting at least 98 miles per hour in each inning, but didn’t get his heater above 96 in his final frame, and confessed to tiring at the end of the game.
Chamberlain was staked to an early 2-0 lead when Bobby Abreu followed a first-inning single by Derek Jeter by crushing a 2-1 fastball from Royals’ starter Zack Greinke into the upper deck in right field. The Royals got one of those runs back in the second when Alex Gordon led off by singling at the end of a seven-pitch at-bat, was moved to third on a single by Yankee Killer Ross Gload, and scored when a fastball diving down and in to Joey Gathright got past Jorge Posada (much like the one that got past Jose Molina in Chamberlain’s previous start, both ruled passed balls).
DeJesus led off the third inning with a double, but Chamberlain got a groundout and a pop out without DeJesus advancing to third. He then locked horns with Jose Guillen. Five of the seven pitches Chamberlain threw to Guillen were sliders. Two were taken for balls, two were fouled off. The fifth, a full-count attempt at an inning-ending strikeout, was a hanger up in the zone and was launched into the left field stands for a two-run homer, Guillen’s third in two days and the only significant mistake Chamberlain made all day.
After walking DeJesus in the fifth on his 78th pitch of the day, Chamberlain was relieved by his tag-team partner Dan Giese. Giese got Mark Grudzielanek to fly out, but then sent DeJesus to second by overthrowing Jason Giambi on a pick-off throw and escaped the inning without DeJesus scoring only because Giambi made a great diving catch on a sinking liner off the bat of Mark Teahen.
From there, however, Giese cruised pitching two hitless innings, his only baserunner coming when Miguel Oliva struck out on a pitch in the dirt, then made it all the way to second base as the ball skipped past Jorge Posada.
Giese was immediately rewarded as Johnny Damon led off the fifth with a triple past a diving DeJesus in left field and scored on a game-tying Bobby Abreu groundout. The Yankees took the lead in the sixth when Jason Giambi led off with a homer off Greinke that sailed into the tunnel between sections 37 and 39 in the right field bleachers. The Yanks added some insurance in the seventh against lefty reliever Ron Mahay when Damon and Abreu singled and Alex Rodriguez plated them both with a one-out double (though Alex was thrown out trying to make it a triple). Jose Veras and Mariano Rivera pitched the eight and ninth to seal the 6-3 win.
Giese and Chamberlain have now combined for two quality starts in as many turns and Giese has compiled one on his own between his two relief appearances (6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K). The Yankees should keep Giese, a lifetime reliever who was stretched out as a starter in the minors this year, in the major league pen as the long-man. That would allow Ross Ohlendorf to move into the short, late-game role for which he was prepared in spring training. The Yankees have said they’ve envisioned Ohlendorf in that role as short stints allow him to get his sinking fastball into the mid-90s. With Chamberlain out of the pen and into the rotation, the time to move Ohlendorf toward the back of the pen is now. As for Chamberlain, his next time out, he’ll be allowed to throw up to 95 pitches, which should be enough for him to turn in a legitimate start.