Alexa

It's finally Joba's time

It's finally Joba's time

Act II of his big league life is set to begin, and Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to perform as a starter. Still, the baseball world will picture him in his last role, as the Yankees' nearly invincible setup man.
Much of his audience will expect to see a dominating force every fifth day.
Is that a slightly unfair expectation? Chamberlain's answer came back as rapidly as his 98 miles per hour fastball.
"You know? No. Because I put those expectations on myself," Chamberlain said, though he also is grounded in realism.
As a starter, "I'm not going to be able to throw 15, 16 scoreless innings, and do what I did" as a reliever, Chamberlain said in a recent telephone conversation. "But I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep my team in the game and go deep in my starts.
"There's going to be times when I get hit around. But you understand that that's a part of it."
He toured every level of the minor league chain last season, and allowed just one earned run in 24 innings with the Yanks, emerging as a steel bridge to Mariano Rivera.
Even as his world spun at a mad pace, Chamberlain felt that each day of his remarkable rookie season in the Bronx was like Christmas Day. Another gift arrived earlier this month, when Chamberlain was declared off limits in trade discussions for Minnesota's Johan Santana.
General manager Brian Cashman and senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner are determined to have Chamberlain in their starting rotation.
"For Cash and Hank to throw that out there, that's very humbling and it makes me work that much harder to prove that it's not a fluke, or that I can't do this, or whatever," Chamberlain said of his transition back to starter.
To complement his fastball and 89 mph slider, Chamberlain has a plus curveball and a burgeoning change-up _ a pitch he utilized more in his last few minor league starts under the watch of Dave Eiland, since promoted to Yankees' pitching coach.
"It's a feel pitch ... and it actually felt pretty good," Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain plans to report early to spring training, after concentrating his workout toward strengthening his legs mostly through running - and his core.
Of course, there was a night last season when Chamberlain said he had trouble feeling his legs under him. That was Aug. 13, when he jogged in from the bullpen for his first Yankee Stadium appearance.
The fans already were chanting his name before Chamberlain even had thrown a pitch.
And then there was the added insanity of Sept. 23, Chamberlain's 22nd birthday.
Chamberlain never had to deal with gridlock in Lincoln, Neb. And though he left his apartment early that Sunday morning, Chamberlain became stuck in Stadium traffic.
Yet, Chamberlain figured he wasn't going to pitch that afternoon against Toronto. He had tossed two innings during a 14-inning loss that Friday night, and the Joba Rules called for a day of rest for each inning pitched.
Late to the ballpark, Chamberlain walked sheepishly into the manager's office and expected to be benched that afternoon. Team protocol.
After Chamberlain apologized and paid his fine, Joe Torre told his right-hander, "By the way, you're up today."
With the tying run on base in the eighth, Chamberlain struck out Adam Lind to end the inning. But he wasn't finished. Chamberlain pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to secure a 7-5 win, and his first major league save - which his father Harlan witnessed through joyous tears.
But in a flash, the Yankees faded from October - but with one indelible memory.
It was a picture of Chamberlain, engulfed by a swarm of gnats on a humid evening in Cleveland.
"The sweating and the bug spray attracted them to me more," Chamberlain said. "They were in my mouth, everywhere. It's something you never expected."
Chamberlain handed back the Yankees' delicate 1-0 lead in Game 2, and the AL Division Series swung permanently in Cleveland's favor.
"But you have to take it for what it's worth," Chamberlain said. "I didn't do my job. It isn't (about) anything that Joe could've done. It's on me."
Though he felt great, physically, Chamberlain said he was "mentally exhausted" after the season. But he was thankful for being accepted by a clubhouse full of veterans - players who took to Chamberlain's outsized personality.
"What made it so easy was that I felt I was a part of the team right away. You know you've got to carry the (pink) backpack and all," Chamberlain said of a rookie ritual among pitchers, "but you have to earn the respect of your teammates."
When asked about the best memory he took from 2007, Chamberlain said, "It's not the game itself, it's being part of a team that was so far back, and everyone saying, 'We're not going to give up.'"