Before he ran to the mound yesterday, Joba Chamberlain took a second to look around. More than a year had passed since he’d last pitched in a big league game, and Yankee Stadium was prepared to give him a big ovation. Chamberlain tried to take in the moment.
“I did a little bit,” he said. “Minus the raindrops in my eyes, it was something that I can’t forget. I’ll remember it just like I remember the first time I walked into old Yankee Stadium, and just to know the feelings that I got, to know that I’m back out there, helping this team.”
Truth is, Chamberlain didn’t help the Yankees too much in his return from the disabled list. His fastball didn’t hum with the velocity everyone expected, and he had a tough time against the first big league hitters he’d faced since June 5 of last year — “It doesn’t matter where you’re at, if you don’t execute pitches, they’re going to get hit,” he said — but Chamberlain was back, and that mattered as much as anything. He had his ankle taped, but said he never feels any pain there anymore. He said he hasn’t felt pain in his elbow in months.
“I didn’t come here just to play with my towels and go out there and play catch,” he said. “I want to be in the game. Obviously I’ve got to prove that, and I’m fine with that. Obviously they believe in me to do my work and to understand how hard I’ve worked and what my stuff has been, so as I said, I’ll get the ball on Friday and go to work.”
Despite losing Mariano Rivera for the season, and losing Dave Robertson for a month, the Yankees bullpen has been a strength. David Phelps’ prospect status has soared, Cody Eppley has emerged and Clay Rapada has been a better-than-expected situational lefty. The Yankees knew they could count on Robertson and Rafael Soriano, but the other pieces have also fallen into place nicely.
Now it’s time to add Chamberlain. This is the bullpen arm the Yankees have been waiting for, a known commodity who could be more than a nice, unexpected role player. Will he fit the way the Yankees hope?
“I expect him to be a right hander that gets right handers and left handers out, just not a specialty guy,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s how I’m going to integrate him. As he throws better, obviously you give people more responsibility. … I’m sure there’s a lot of things that went into (yesterday). Being out over a year, coming back from two serious injuries, there’s probably a lot of emotions that went on. I was glad he wasn’t over pumped up. That was my biggest concern with him going out there. There was a lot of emotion from the fans as well, happy to see him come back. I think you’ll see him continue to improve as time goes on.”
Associated Press photo