Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The return of Joba

Yankees fans may not have much to cheer about these days, but I'll tell you what we still do have. Joba Freaking Chamberlain. Not to mention his giant, lumbering bluetooth-loving father. And that ain't bad.

Chamberlain was back on the mound for the first time in a month in the opener against the Rays on Tuesday. More effective than sharp, he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in New York's 7-2 win. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s, and the big man looked comfortable all things considered.

Joba's injury in Texas on Aug. 4 really turned out to be the death knell of the Yankees' season, the moment when the air went out of New York's balloon for good. It was good to have him back in action on Tuesday, even if the damage of his absence has already been done.

The injury did more than sink the Yanks' postseason chances in 2008, it has also now presented the team with the same issue it had entering the season. Had Chamberlain remained healthy, he probably would have thrown between 150-160 innings for the season, which would have set him up in 2009 for the 190-200 inning workload of an upper-tier starter. The DL stint wiped out that carefully orchestrated plan, and it's now likely Joba will finish with around 100 innings for the season.

It's pretty obvious the Yanks won't ask their prized possession to double his workload next year, so you can bet your arse the right-hander will begin the season setting up for Rivera ... again.

This has almost become a comical issue at this point. The Yankees were so careful with Chamberlain that they have actually now managed to foul up his development. In a sense, they will be paying the price for bringing him up as a reliever in '07 for two complete seasons, and that's assuming '09 will go off without a hitch. Let this be a lesson to other teams that may want to emulate the Yankees' move with their own young studs.

But while the future is once again muddled for Joba, there's no debating the Yankees are a much better team with Chamberlain on it, regardless of his role. With Joba setting up Rivera, the Yanks once again have baseball's best bullpen. Needing to go 18-6 to reach 92 wins (my predetermined win total New York must reach to possibly win the Wild Card), the Yankees must be nearly perfect. Having Joba back in the 'pen can only help.

Welcome back, hoss.

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