With a setback in an already strenuous rehab, there was reason to doubt Joba Chamberlain bouncing back and regaining the spring in his step. Allowing him to return to major league action before the end of the season was a leap of faith from the Yankees, a leap that seemed destined for disaster. If he over-exerted himself, he might collapse under the weight of his own expectations.
The initial returns were poor, with Chamberlain falling flat on his face to the tune of ten earned runs and twenty three base runners in his first 10.1 innings. That's obviously awful. It's ten innings, but it's an obviously awful ten innings. Rafael Soriano had an awful ten innings and an injury once. Evaluating relief pitchers is all about overreaction to small groups of innings and demeanor. Probably ninety percent demeanor.
In his last 9.1 innings, though, Chamberlain has allowed zero earned runs and only eight baserunners. He has struck out twelve and walked one. So he has matched his crappy pitching with an equal stretch of brilliant pitching and the brilliant stretch is still happening right now.
I've become too disillusioned with Chamberlain to write a he's back! article or tell you to expect this run of success to be a sign of things to come. What I will tell you is that relief pitchers are notoriously fickle and prone to streaks and as I've just illustrated, Chamberlain has been no exception.
We've seen the playoffs make managers even more trigger happy than normal when it comes to bullpen usage. With the eighth and ninth inning roles firmly locked up, which right handed option would you trust more than Chamberlain in the middle innings? David Phelps probably. But Phelps will be deployed somewhat reluctantly for much the same reason that teams carry three catchers. What if the game goes forty-seven innings and we need length? How will we ever survive without a backup backup catcher?
So for better or worse, Chamberlain will probably be asked to get some playoff outs. He's in Cody Eppley territory -- how the mighty have fallen -- and I'm quietly optimistic about that. There's a lot of burnt out bullpen arms in October and Chamberlain has thrown only 19.2 innings, the last chunk of which have been awesome. He still strikes guys out, he hasn't been giving up walks, and he might have gotten hot at just the right time.