Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Great Joba Debate Is DEAD

Starter or Reliever? There can be no doubt anymore, and I'm declaring the Joba debate over.

Not only is Joba Chamberlain a starter, he is as dominant and dynamic as he was as a reliever.

And anyone watching Joba's last three starts would have a hard time arguing otherwise.

Joba allowed three hits in eight, shutout innings Wednesday and the Yankees beat the Rays 6-2 in Tampa to move 3-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and put a nail in the coffin of the defending AL champion Rays, who are 7-1/2 games back and fading.

The Yankees are 62-39 for the season, tied with Joe Torre's Dodgers for the best record in the majors. They've gone 18-7 in July.

So Dave, with the Yankees' bullpen also having solidified into a formidable unit with the development of Phil Hughes, it is time for to say five little words:

"I was wrong about Joba."

In his three starts since the All-Star break, Joba is 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA and 0.74 WHIP. He has struck out 19 and is averaging 7.2 innings a start.

And this isn't just about a good stretch for the kid. Something has clicked with this 23-year-old fireballer and as a result he has taken a giant leap in his development.

He's working faster, challenging hitters with his fastball, showing impeccable control with all his pitches and showing his emotions.

"It's just having confidence again, going out and being yourself," Chamberlain said. "You always need a little reminder once in a while, but it's just going back to having fun and being aggressive."


And Wednesday he was nearly unhittable. He walked two, struck out five and threw 65 of 101 pitches for strikes.

You read right: He threw just 101 pitches in eight innings. Pitchers don't get much more efficient than that.

Joba retired all eight leadoff batters he faced and retired the side in order four times. The only trouble he ran into came in the fifth when he issued one-out and two-out walks.

"In my eyes," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, "that's probably the best I've seen him."

The only troublesome note for Joba was that he nearly started a beanball war. With two outs in the fourth, he threw a pitch around the head of Evan Longoria. Rays starter Matt Garza responded in the fifth by hitting Mark Teixeira, something he admitted to doing on purpose.

I won't get on Garza. He has to protect his players. This is Joba's fault. I have no problem with him pitching in or coming up-and-in to intimidate batters, but he has to keep the ball away from batters' heads. That's basic and that's something he has to learn very soon.

In any case, Joba (7-2, 3.58 ERA) was so dominant that it made it easy for the offense to pick apart Garza, who allowed just three runs on eight hits in seven innings.

Derek Jeter led off the game with a triple and scored on Teixeira's one-out single to get the Yankees off to a fast start.

The Yankees pushed across another run in the fourth when Alex Rodriguez led off with a single and went to third on Hideki Matsui's double. After Jorge Posada popped out, Robinson Cano brought in A-Rod with a groundout to second.

Joba received a little more breathing room in the sixth when Robinson Cano crushed a two-out homer to right, and the Yankees made it 4-0 in the eighth, when Jorge Posada singled in Matsui, who had reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error.

The Yankees poured it on in the ninth when Melky Cabrera led off with a homer to right and Teixeira hit a two-out homer to center.

The only down note of the night came in the night when Brian Bruney took a step back in his battle to regain his form. Bruney allowed a leadoff triple to Carl Crawford, a two run-homer to Longoria to left and a one-out double to Carlos Pena before being remove. Mariano Rivera walked one and struck out two to finish off the game.

But no one cares about that.

Joba has set this team abuzz.

Runners In Scoring Position
Wednesday
2-for-10 (.200)
Season
247-for-940 (.263)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
31-for-121 (.256)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
182-for-668 (.272)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Thursday at White Sox, 8:11 p.m., YES
Andy Pettitte (8-6, 4.67) vs. Gavin Floyd (8-6, 4.24)

Pettitte pitched six brilliant innings before coming apart against the A's in his last start Saturday and is desperate for a victory. He has not earned a W since July 1, though he pitched brilliantly in his first start after the break in a no-decision.

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