There’s not a lot of time left for the Yankees to figure out Joba Chamberlain. Sure, in the big picture, he’s still fairly young with plenty of years ahead of him, but here and now, there’s not much time left.
And here and now matter a great deal for the Yankees and Joba Chamberlain.
“It’s frustrating,” Chamberlain said after another rocky relief appearance last night. “But it’s also a learning experience trying to figure out what you have to do to be better. You can’t give up. You have to keep going out and doing your work and getting your running in and lifting and throwing bullpens to try to figure out what you can do.”
Joe Girardi again promised to stick with Chamberlain. For now.
“I don’t anticipate us making any changes tonight,” he said.
But here’s the thing: It’s almost September, and the Yankees need to know whether Chamberlain can be a reliable, late-inning reliever down the stretch. Chamberlain needs to know whether he can command a pitch in the strike zone when he really needs to. Right now, I’m not sure anyone can confidently answer “yes” to either of those questions.
CC Sabathia could come off the disabled list as early as Friday. When that happens, who’s shipped to Triple-A? Is it David Phelps so he can get some innings and stay stretched out? Is it Cody Eppley because he has options and could give his groundball role to Derek Lowe? Or is it Chamberlain?
“I really haven’t walked too many guys other than the intentional walks,” Chamberlain said. “But just continuing to be consistent with everything. … You’re not going to always be perfect, I understand that, but I have to be better to be able to figure out what it is, whether it’s something in my delivery, whether I’m cutting myself off, whether I’m not getting out front. It’s something where you just have to put your heads together. Two heads, three heads, are better than one. See what (the coaches) think, what I feel like, and go from there.”
What to do with Chamberlain after this season is another discussion altogether (and there’s not much time left to figure that out either). But more immediately, the Yankees need to know whether Chamberlain can help them at the big league level this season. Right now, his 9.45 ERA and 2.85 WHIP aren’t helping very much. He is throwing pretty hard, and his offspeed pitches look plenty effective from time to time, but the consistency isn’t there.
“His command is inconsistent,” Girardi said. “We’ve said all along with Tommy John, a lot of times that’s what happens; they’re inconsistent when they come back. … We’re trying to get him back to where he was before he was hurt. He was helping us last year before he got hurt. Right now he’s scuffling a little bit.”
Right now Chamberlain is scuffling. And right now matters a great deal.
“I’ve been trying to work this out my whole career,” Chamberlain said. “I’ve had to learn on the job since 2007. It’s something that I’m used to. It’s not catching me by surprise. Obviously it is frustrating, but you can’t give up. You can’t shut it down and not work and be like, oh well, this is it. It’s 14 months. That’s not an excuse. It’s obviously a factor, but when you’re off 14 months of anything at the big league level, it’s going take time. Do I want to be perfect? Yeah, and it’s frustrating when it’s not.”
Associated Press photo