Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Joba fights back against midges, critics

Full disclosure: I was a bit conflicted about the fate of one Joba Chamberlain last night.

I was rooting for the Yankees, of course (the only scenario I can imagine turning on my team involves a World Series Game 7 in which Don Mattingly digs into the box in Dodgers blue). That said, I wasn't entirely sure how well I wanted Joba to do in the series finale against the Indians at the disgusting bug and seagull pit known as Progressive Field.

Monday's start, you see, was quite a big one for Mr. Chamberlain. Michael Kay and others were scratching their heads last night trying to figure out how the right-hander was touching the upper-90s on the gun in the late innings against the Tribe, but it was all pretty evident to me. He's pitching for his life ... as a starter on this team anyway. If that's not motivation, I don't know what is.

Think about it. For all of Brian Cashman's posturing -- and he's been quite adamant in recent interviews about the topic -- another mediocre start by Chamberlain would have a Hummer full of gasoline on the inferno that is the starter/reliever debate. Chien-Ming Wang looked like Chien-Ming Wang for the first time on Sunday, and it's (hopefully) just a matter of time now before he's inserted back into the rotation. If you ask me, it's already gone too long, but the Yankees don't fancy giving the Wanger respect for whatever reason.

So there I was, sitting on my couch, the idea of a wholly unimpressive Joba exiting the game after five innings in an eventual 9-6 Yankees win dancing in my head. Does this make me a bad fan? I don't think so, not when my secret longing for bad Joba being part of a bigger plan to ultimately make this team better.

Chamberlain didn't do me -- or the rest of the 'Joba-to-'Pen' legions -- any favors in a 5-2 Yankees win. He was simply excellent, retiring the first 11 batters he faced and going a career-best eight innings for his third victory of the season. Most impressively, he needed just 106 pitches to do so. It was a performance that makes it seem like a no-brainer to keep him in the rotation. And if nothing else, it provides a stay-of-execution on that topic ... Chamberlain will certainly get some leeway based on this glimpse of greatness, likely enough time to survive the cut to be made when Wang returns.

All of this is bad news for Phil Hughes, of course, who I suspect may of had the same conflicted thoughts in the dugout yesterday in Cleveland. He is likely ticketed for Triple-A, or possibly the very eighth-inning role that seems to be a tailor fit for his fellow farmboy wunderkind. There are those that say Hughes is a more logical fit in the role, since he only has two established Major League pitches at this point while Chamberlain has four. I don't buy into that at all -- supporters on each side of this debate have brought up some truly stupid points over the months -- but it will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out.

As for Chamberlain, I still feel he's best suited to help this particular team out of the bullpen and yesterday's fine start doesn't change that. I can't help it, I have visions of Mo-Wetteland dancing in my head and I remember how dangerous that '07 team was before Wang and midges sent it all to hell.

But in a big picture sense, yesterday was another very good day for the Yankees in what has been a very good stretch for the AL East leaders. And if Chamberlain can bottle yesterday's motivation and performance, the seemingly endless Joba debate may finally ... finally ... be put to rest.

Yeah right.

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