Saturday, July 25, 2009

Joba Making Believers Out Of Doubters

Joba Chamberlain may have finally gotten this starting thing figured out.

Often, it takes young pitchers a little time learn what it takes to win in the majors, especially when they've had minimal minor league experience.

But Joba sure seems to getting there.

Joba won consecutive starts for just the second time in his career, pitching into the eighth inning an allowing just one run on two hits as the Yankees won their eighth straight out of the break, beating the A's 8-3 Friday at Yankee Stadium to remain 2-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Joba seemed to turn a corner in his previous start, allowing one run in 6-2/3 innings in a 2-1 victory over the Tigers Sunday. He more than backed that up Friday, and is starting to convert some of those who said she should remain in the bullpen.

“He’s changed my mind,” said Jorge Posada, who voiced his belief that Joba was better suited for the bullpen when the Yankees began converting him to a starter last season.

Joba was dominant Friday, working quickly, unleashing fastballs in the mid-90s, commanding a devastating slider and mixing in just enough curves and changes to keep batters off balance. He struck out six, walked three and threw 56 of 100 pitches for strikes.

This is what Yankee scouts and executives believed Joba (6-2, 3.86 ERA) would become and their patience and discipline appears to be paying off. Now it's up to Joba to build on what he's started.

The hallmark of top pitchers in the majors is their ability to be consistent. Any pitcher can throw a great game, but top pitchers can do it game-to-game. That's Joba's challenge.

Unfortunately for Joba, that challenge is also a double-edged sword. If he can establish that consistency, it would lead to a sooner end to his season in the rotation.

Joba is at 102-2/3 innings pitched for the season and it is believed he wisely has a limit of 150-160 innings. The most innings he's ever thrown in a season is about 100, and history has shown us that jumping young pitchers more than 40-60 innings can lead to arm problems. Just ask the Indians' Fausto Carmona.

So that means if Joba can continue pitching like he has in his last two starts, he'll have about seven or eighth starts left this season, which would force him out of the rotation by early September.

But if Joba can continue to pitch like this, it's a trade well worth making.

Joba's only trouble came in the first inning when Orlando doubled with one out, stole second and scored on Scott Hairston's sacrifice fly to center. Joba appears to be one of those pitchers, whom if an opponent doesn't get to him early, it won't get to him at all. Many great pitchers have been like that.

The offense broke through against Brett Anderson in the third. Robinson Cano led off with an infield single and went to third on a one-out double by Melky Cabrera. Derek Jeter, who went 3-for-5 with two RBI, singled to score Cano and Johnny Damon's groundout brought in Melky to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

With his three hits, Jeter has 2,655 hits to pass Ted Williams on the career list. Yes, Sox fans, we all recognize that Williams was robbed of so much because of his two military stints ... and we thank him for his service to our country.

The Yankees tacked on two more runs with an RBI groundout by Damon in the fifth and an RBI groundout by Hideki Matsui in the sixth. For those keeping score, that meant the Yankees produced three-run scoring outs.

I love to harp the importance of a team's ability to hit with runners in scoring position, but I do recognize that the stat is not perfect. It doesn't take into account productive outs, so even though the Yankees went 3-for-13 with RISP Friday, they were quite productive in run-scoring situations.

The Yankees broke it open in the eighth. Jorge Posada led off against Trumbull, Conn.'s Craig Breslow by crushing a homer to deep left. After getting Matsui to ground out, Breslow then walked Cano and Nick Swisher and was pulled for Santiago Casilla.

Melky then grounded back to the box, but Casilla couldn't get off a good throw to second, committing and error that allowed Cano to score to make it 6-1 before singles by Jeter and Damon each drove in run to give the Yankees a seven-run lead.

That left David Robertson, who allowed two runs, with some mopup duty in the ninth before everyone could gush about Joba's second straight terrific outing.

Joba is starting to make people believe in him as a start, but I have one question: With the Yankees' bullpen settling down and performing well, will Dave finally come around and admit the Yankees were right?

Runners In Scoring Position
3-for-13 (.231)
237-for-892 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
20-for-73 (.274)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
171-for-620 (.276)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Saturday vs. A's, 1:05 p.m., YES
Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 9.33) vs. Andy Pettitte (8-5, 4.62)

It's Pettitte's turn to carry the baton. Since the break, Yankees starters are 6-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. They've struck out 41, walked just 20 and are averaging 6.7 innings a start. In his last outing, Pettitte pitched 7-1/3 innings, but got a no-decision in a 2-1 victory over the Tigers Monday.

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