Joba Chamberlain had just pulled into the Trenton parking lot when the Yankees told him to turn around. He was supposed to make one more minor league rehab appearance. He instead hurried back to Yankee Stadium to be activated after more than a year on the disabled list.
Now that Chamberlain’s return from elbow and ankle injuries is off to a slow start, is it fair to wonder whether the Yankees actually rushed him a little bit?
“I thought I was ready,” Chamberlain said. “I didn’t think there was anything more that we had to work on. Obviously we threw two innings a couple of times. We threw back-to-back. You can’t mimic pitching in the big leagues. You can’t. You can get your rehab starts and get your innings in, but these guys are in the big leagues for a reason. Those other guys are in Double-A and High-A and Triple-A for a reason as well. It’s one of those things where we have to continue to work, keep grinding and just continue to get better every day. There’s been good pitches, there’s been bad pitches, but we just worry about the consistency and take what we can take from the good ones and then keep going.”
Was Chamberlain rushed? Maybe, but truth be told, there was nothing in the minor league numbers to suggest he needed more rehab time. And the Yankees usually take more heat for their caution than their recklessness. Chamberlain was throwing hard, pitching well, and he wasn’t stepping into a setup situation. The Yankees traded away Chad Qualls, and Chamberlain seemed a ready replacement.
“We said all along when we brought him up that we thought he’d be a factor by the time September rolled around and he got innings under his belt,” Joe Girardi said. “But we were going to try to put him, for the most part, in low-level situations. He hadn’t had a lot of work. … We were forced to do it a little bit, but we felt pretty good about the way he was throwing the baseball. Sometimes it takes time.”
There’s a general thinking that command is one of the last things to come back after Tommy John surgery, and that might explain some of Chamberlain’s inconsistency.
“I think just flying open a little bit,” Chamberlain said. “That’s the slider coming back on the middle of the plate. I think that’s one thing for me. We had a good at-bat to Soto (yesterday). Just look at that at-bat and kind of look at the other ones, compare them, and see what we’re doing in those. Try to translate it.”
Expectations are high for a pitcher like Chamberlain, especially when he’s playing for a team like the Yankees. Those expectations come from the fans, from the organization and from Chamberlain himself.
“Coming back is one thing,” he said. “But I don’t come back just to come back. I know how good I am. I know my ability. I know how good I have been. To come back is one thing. That’s the first step in this whole process. To get back to where I want to be is obviously where I want to be, and it’s going to take work. It’s not easy up here. I’ve learned on the fly from 2007. This is just another way to learn and be better for it.
“I’m still 26 years old. I’ve still got a lot of time ahead of me. Physically I feel great. Mentally you’ve got to keep fighting. That’s the hard part. Physically, I know I’m there. I know my arm’s there, my velocity’s there, my stuff’s there. I’ve seen it in pitches. It’s mentally just getting through the fact you know you can do this, you’ve overcome a lot already and continue to grind.”
Associated Press photo