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Bullpen uncertainty: The impact of Joba Chamberlain

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[2]Joba Chamberlain’s pitch to Yunel Escobar looked like a pretty good one last night. It was a high fastball, 95 mph with a 2-2 count. Chamberlain was clearly trying to get Escobar to chase a pitch up and out of the zone, and Escobar did chase. It wasn’t the kind of pitch that hitters usually do much with if they hit it at all, and Escobar didn’t hit it especially well, but it dropped into right field — going in and out of Andruw Jones’ glove — for a two-run single.

“You make your pitch, stuff happens and you go on,” Chamberlain said. “You can’t let it fester.”

Chamberlain didn’t pitch all that poorly last night, but the result was familiar: Another letdown that let a winable game get out of reach. Obviously Chamberlain has not been a go-to reliever for the Yankees this season, but he brings considerable uncertainty because the team lacks better options.

With Chamberlain limited to low-leverage situations — or forced into high-leverage situations when no one else is available — the Yankees bullpen is essentially down to six pitchers, two of whom are strictly left-on-left and right-on-right specialists, and one of whom is the only true multi-inning guy available. They can only lean on Boone Logan, Dave Robertson and Rafael Soriano so much. Chamberlain was supposed to provide some late-season support, but it hasn’t happened yet, and now the team seems to be avoiding him at all costs.

“I have to continue to get out there to prove to them and prove to my teammates and everyone else that the ability is there to get people out,” he said. “Obviously it hasn’t been great, but this is obviously a start.”

It is a start, and it’s hard to place too much blame on a guy who’s coming back from two surgeries and pitching for the first time in more than a year. Chamberlain works hard, but he needs innings to find consistency, and without consistency, it’s hard to give him innings. It’s hard to know what to expect when he gets in a game. The velocity is there, but the results aren’t.

“It’s just getting in there,” Chamberlain said. “It doesn’t matter the situation. You have to go out there and be better.”

Associated Press photo