Joba Chamberlain did not allow a run last night, but he entered the ninth inning with a seven-run lead and couldn’t finish off the blowout. It’s the new reality of the game’s most high-profile mopup man. As he stumbles toward free agency, the days of using him in high-leverage situations are long gone.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty well before he got hurt,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And then I think it’s been kind of up and down for him since he’s come back. Rib cage muscles sometimes can be tough to recover from. They can be something where you don’t necessarily feel it, but the strength isn’t necessarily what it has been (in the past). I think he’s thrown a little bit better of late, but we need some big innings from this guy.”
Chamberlain was hurt at the end of April, and the injury kept him out for a month. Aside from a brutal three-run outing in his season debut, Chamberlain pitched well in April. He had a 1.04 ERA and opponents were hitting .226/.306/.258. He was a go-to seventh-inning guy, and he got an out-of-options save in his final outing before the injury.
Since the injury, he’s had a 5.24 ERA with a .305/.377/.526 opponents’ slash line. That’s superstar offensive production, and Chamberlain’s allowed it for almost three months now.
“If he is (lacking confidence), he doesn’t show it,” Girardi said. “But I’ve always said that when you’re going through tough times, everyone thinks about it. It’s impossible not to. It’s human nature. I haven’t seen (it) affect his personality.”
Girardi said he fully believes Chamberlain is healthy, simply questions whether he’s regained the strength he had before the injury. Whatever the cause, it seems reasonable to wonder whether Chamberlain will ever pitch another meaningful inning for the Yankees.
“When a guy come back from a rib cage muscle, whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher, they don’t necessarily have pain and they’re not hurt, but they’re probably not maybe as strong as they were right before they did it,” Girardi said. “I think sometimes it takes people with rib cage muscles, even though they’re playing, to really, truly get back to where they were. I think he got in a little bit of a funk, and it’s been up and down.”
• Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, is back in the lineup and back at third base. He’s been able to play the field fairly regularly, which has helped the Yankees keep their outfield depth in the lineup. “I’ve been pleased,” Girardi said. “I’ve kept in contact with (Rodriguez). I didn’t ask him today, but I felt that he was OK and he usually texts me if he thinks he needs a DH day, but I think he talked a little bit about being fresh because he doesn’t have a lot of games under his belt, and we need him to stay that way, and I’ll continue to talk to him.”
• Beyond his ability to stay on the field, the Yankees have been happy with the early offensive production they’ve gotten from Rodriguez. “We’ve seen him drive the ball,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen him hit hard line drives. The bat speed is definitely there.”
• Mariano Rivera warmed up a couple of times last night but didn’t get into the game. Is it getting to the point where he needs to pitch just to get some work? “We talked about bringing him in yesterday, but then (the lead) got so big. He got up and he was ready to go, so I was saying that that’s OK,” Girardi said. “Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to give a guy a little bit of a breather because you never know. Most of the guys I have used three days in a row in the past, you never know when you’ll need that.”
• There still some marveling at what Alfonso Soriano has been able to do lately. “It’s hard to explain hitters,” Girardi said. “To me it was pitch selection, what he was swinging at, and whether he was overanxious about being a Yankee or overanxious about 2,000, none of us really know. But that’s what’s changed for me.”
• Couple of errors for Eduardo Nunez yesterday — though one was a weird little bobble on a sliding play in foul territory — but Nunez has been far more reliable this season, and Girardi said he had no real worry about putting him back at shortstop this afternoon. “He seemed to really bounce back a lot better this year,” Girardi said. “When he’s playing every day I think it’s easier. I did’t really see the replay of the first one but I think that was kind of a tough one, sliding and hitting the wall, sliding on rocks really. I’ll keep an eye on him but I think he’s done better at turning the page this year.”
• Worth keeping in mind that today’s Red Sox starter, John Lackey, has been outspoken about not wanting Rodriguez to be allowed to play during his appeal.
Associated Press photos