Today I make my second -- and probably last -- trek of the season from upstate New York to the new Yankee Stadium. I figure the Yankees owe me a victory and a sweep of the Blue Jays since my first visit was the historic 22-4 debacle lost to the Cleveland Indians.
I am getting up at 6 a.m. and spending more than three hours on a bus each way today, so I'm figuring I deserve to see a Yankee victory. On a nice warm, sunny day, too.
Anyway, the Yankees are rolling. Sunday's victory made it three straight over Toronto, and 10 wins in 11 games. The Yanks are just one game back of Boston. So, there isn't much to complain about this morning.
Being Yankee fans, though, we have to find something.
Cody Ransom's putrid defense is a good target. Thanks for those five unearned runs Sunday there, Cody. Keep that up and you'll play Ramiro Pena right back into pinstripes.
A better target, though, might be Joba Chamberlain. Now I know any mention of Joba, especially following Sunday's putrid 3.2-inning, 9-hit, 8-run (though only 3 were earned) performance is going to stir up the 'Joba to the bullpen' crowd.
That is not what I am trying to do here, but you do have to look at Joba these days and wonder what the heck is going on with the Yanks' prized young right-hander.
He has a 4.04 ERA. He has a WHIP of 1.52, after posting one of 1.26 last season. He has allowed 88 hits in 84.2 innings. He is barely averaging 5 innings per start. He is averaging just 7.87 strikeouts per nine innings, after being above 10 last season. His ERA+ is down from 171 last season to 112 this season.
Joba simply does not look the part of the dominant "ace in training" the Yankees have been waiting to see.
The question is, why? And no, the answer isn't as simple as 'he pitches better out of the bullpen.' Remember, his impressive numbers last season were compiled largely as a starter last season, when he compiled a 2.76 ERA in 12 starts and had 60 strikeouts in 65 innings.
Joba simply has not been the same since injuring his shoulder last season. In his handful of September appearances last season his velocity was down to 91-93 mph from the 95-98 we had become accustomed to. By and large, that is where it still is. We see glimpses of dominating stuff, but they are fleeting.
What we see now is a Chamberlain who is unable to overpower hitters, unless he can get into counts where he can put them away with his slider. His fastball is straight, and rarely touches 95. He seems to want to nibble around the corners, and he is largely reliant on using his variety of pitches to keep hitters guessing. Sounds a lot more like a veteran hanging on than a guy the Yankees think can be Josh Beckett or Justin Verlander.
Reduced stuff or not, Yankee Manager Joe Girardi wants to see Chamberlain stop screwing around on the mound and show some aggression.
"The 3-2 slider to the first hitter [Marco Scutaro] kind of set the tone in a sense," he said. "He got some long counts. He gets in the stretch, he works extremely slow. We talked to him about improving his pace a little bit.
"It's just about attacking the hitters. It's what it is. Sometimes your mechanics are going to be off a little bit and they don't allow you to do that. But it's important, because whether you're at old Yankee Stadium or new Yankee Stadium, rightfield is somewhat short. And you don't want to give up free baserunners."
Here is more from Newsday's Ken Davidoff, including a startling stat.
Chamberlain walked only one, but the fact that he threw 86 pitches to get only 11 outs supported Girardi's thoughts. He needs to go deeper in games. According to Tim Kurkjian in ESPN magazine, Chamberlain had the fewest decisions (nine) in his first 25 career starts of any pitcher in major-league history.
Chamberlain certainly did his share - as did Jays counterpart Brett Cecil, to be fair - to account for the game's final time of 3:44. If he worked any slower on the mound, Chamberlain would be a Wimbledon men's final.
Maybe part of the 'problem' is that Joba doesn't seem to think there is a problem.
In Joba's World, life wasn't too bad. "I did a good job today [of attacking hitters], I felt like," he said. "They're great hitters. I threw good pitches and they put good swings on it. They've been doing it all year. They're going to continue to do it."
Asked why Girardi thought he didn't attack the hitters, the pitcher said of his manager, "You'd have to ask him that."
"At the end of the day," he said, explaining why the boos didn't bother him, "the sun comes up, and I've still got a job. I give everything I have every time I go out. If that's not enough, then I don't know what is."
I don't know what the answer is. The Yanks are committed to keeping Joba in the rotation, and need him there now with the Chien-Ming Wang injury.
I hope, however, that the Joba we have seen much of this season isn't the best Joba we are going to get -- whatever role he is in. The Yankees need more than what they have been getting.
Here are a couple of other stories making news around the Yankee Universe.
- Phil Hughes won't join the rotation. He's become too valuable to the 2009 Yankees in the bullpen, said Girardi.
"I can say one thing, I don’t see us taking him out of that role right now. He’s probably less built up than anyone that we have so he will probably not be one of our options. … I see him staying in the bullpen." Hughes, down the road, is he still a starter? "I still believe that he is a starter. You’ll see a lot of young pitchers that come up and have success in the bullpen and then the move them over to the rotation because on any given day you’re not asking too much from them in a sense.
I think his stuff right now plays out well in both, but I think he’s been really, really good in the bullpen and has been really helpful to us, and that’s another reason that we might keep him there for a while. And the other thing is he’s not built up, and it’s tough to build them up here. You would have to send him down for a while and we’re not comfortable doing that right now with the way he’s throwing the baseball."