As expected, Joba Chamberlain, was effective, but innefficient in his first major league start. So much so that his "start" actually worked out to be something of an early relief appearance setting up the game's actual non-starting starting pitcher, Dan Geise.
Beginning his outing with nothing but fastballs, Chamberlain got ahead of Toronto's leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart 1-2, then pinpointed a 99-mile-per-hour fastball up the upper outside corner. Stewart was nearly beat by the pitch, but managed to tip it into catcher Jose Molina's glove, knocking off his batting helmet in his follow through. The pitch hit the webbing of Molina's glove with such force that it sprung out, extending the at-bat. Chamberlain then switched to his slider for ball two and another foul, then missed high twice with 96-mile-per-hour heaters, walking Stewart on eight pitches in an at-bat that would set the tone for his brief outing.
It took Chamberlain six pitches (four of them fastballs) to strike out Marco Scutaro on a slider. Then, with Alex Rios at the plate, Chamberlain threw to first and was called for a balk that sent Stewart to second.
Joba got ahead of Rios 1-2, starting the at-bat off with a nice 76-mile-per-hour curve that dropped into the zone for a called strike, but the second strike, a 93-mile-per-hour heater tailing down and in that Rios swung through, squirted by Molina and sent Stewart to third. With Stewart on second, Molina didn't give a clear target for the pitch, so it's unclear where he was expecting it. John Flaherty has said in YES broadcasts this year that catchers should anticipate having to block breaking pitches, but you can't expect them to anticipate a fastball in the dirt. The thing is, this pitch wasn't in the dirt. It hit Molina's glove just below knee-high, but Molina didn't move his body an inch to attempt a block, instead he rather sleepily snatched at it only to have it tip off his glove and roll to the backstop.
Chamberlain again pinpointed a 98-mile-per-hour heater on the upper outside corner and got Rios to ground out to second, but what should have been an inning-ending double play ball was instead an RBI groundout due to the balk and the passed ball.
At this point, Chamberlain had thrown 18 pitches, right around his inning average this season. He then got ahead of Scott Rolen 1-2 on a pair of fastballs and a slider that Rolen missed by about three feet. His next pitch was another fastball on the outside corner and it produced another groundball to the right side, but this one was perfectly placed between Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi and scooted through the infield for the only hit Chamberlain would allow on the night.
Now at 22 pitches, Chamberlain was in danger of blowing a huge chunk of his allotted 65 pitches. In retrospect, the pitch count came back to haunt Chamberlain, not just because his inefficiency was exacerbated by bad luck, but because the Blue Jays clearly came into the game with the strategy of taking pitches and forcing Chamberlain out of the game early, a strategy which worked perfectly.
With two out and one on, Matt Stairs took four borderline fastballs to get to 3-1, fouled off a fifth, then took his base when Chamberlain's second curve of the night missed high. Lyle Overbay followed by watching six pitches go by-- the first four fastballs, the last two sliders--to walk and load the bases. At that point Chamberlain was up to 34 pitches and the Blue Jays had only swung at one of his last 12 offerings.
With the bases juiced, Rod Barajas took two more pitches, but both were sliders for strikes. Barajas then fouled off a slider away and swung through a 98-mile-per-hour fastball that Molina managed to hang on to for the third out.
One inning. Three walks. Two strikeouts. Thirty-eight pitches, 58 percent of his allotted total for the night.
Fortunately, the Yankees had a nice long inning in the bottom of the first to give Chamberlain a breather. Johnny Damon led off with a triple off Roy Halladay, but found himself still standing at third after Derek Jeter ground out to Rolen and Bobby Abreu struck out. Halladay then got ahead of Alex Rodriguez 1-2 only to have his next pitch slip out of his hand and plunk Rodriguez on the elbow pad. Hideki Matsui then singled Damon home on Halladay's next pitch, and two tosses later, Jason Giambi shot a groundball single through empty left side of the infield to plate Rodriguez from second base.
Handed a 2-0 lead against a pitcher who had allowed just two runs total in his last 23 innings pitched, Chamberlain responded with a 1-2-3 top of the second, but used up another 16 pitches in the process pushing his total up to 54. All but two of Joba's second-inning pitches were fastballs. The other two were sliders called balls against Brad Wilkerson in the first at-bat of the inning. The Blue Jays swung at five of Chamberlain's 16 offerings in the second. Three of those swings were by David Eckstein, who struck out waiving at a 98-mile-per hour heater.
After the Yankees stranded a two-out double by Damon in the bottom of the second, Chamberlain came back out for the third and got Marco Scutaro to hit a deep fly to right where Bobby Abreu made a leaping catch at the wall for the first out. Joba then walked Alex Rios on four pitches, the last of which was his 62nd of the night. That put Chamberlain close enough to his limit for Joe Girardi to come and get him. Repeating the pattern of the second inning, all but one of Chamberlains' eight pitches in the third were fastballs (the other was a slider for a ball to Rios) and Scutaro's out came on the only swing offered by either hitter.
In all, it wasn't a particularly encouraging outing for Chamberlain, but, as I said in my preview, this is just another step on Joba's journey from relieving back to starting. He'll start again on Sunday and try to get his pitch total up in the 75-to-80 range. Soon he'll be able to stretch out just like any other starter, and the opposing offenses won't be able to exploit his pitch limits by taking an inordinate percentage of pitches.
Last night, the last eight hitters Joba faced saw a total of 40 pitches and swung at nine of them, five of those swings coming from the last two hitters in the order, Rod Barajas and David Eckstein, both of whom struck out. On the night, Joba only threw 52 percent of his pitches for strikes and lasted just 2 1/3 innnigs. Given all of that, taking pitches against Joba looks like an excellent strategy, but it's worth remembering that Chamberlain only allowed one hit, a groundball single, left the game with a 2-1 lead against Roy Halladay, and would have left the game up 2-0 if not for a balk and a passed ball.
As expected, Dan Giese made his Yankee debut by following Chamberlain into the game (though it took him a moment to find the exit from the bullpen), entering with one out in the third inning and Alex Rios on first base. Rios broke for second on Giese's first pitch and Jose Molina, having an awful day behind the plate, overthrew Robinson Cano at second base to send Rios to third, thus allowing him to score on Scott Rolen's subsequent groundout, charging Joba with a second run and tying the game at 2-2.
The Blue Jays took the lead off Giese in the fourth when Barajas led off with a double, moved to third on a Wilkerson single, and scored on an Eckstein sac fly. Giese allowed only that one run in 3 2/3 innings, but also allowed six baserunners, uncharacteristically failed to strike out a batter, and needed Molina to catch Wilkerson stealing third following a one-out double in the sixth to avoid surrendering a second run.
Still, Giese did all of that while throwing only three more pitches than Chamberlain, and the tag-team of Chamberlain and Giese, a pairing I expect will be repeated on Sunday, combined to turn in a quality start: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 5 BB, 3 K. The walks were Joba's, the lack of Ks were Giese's. I expect both to improve next time out.
A quality start is designated as such because it usually gives the team that receives it a strong chance to win. Indeed, the Yankees entered the seventh inning trailing by a slim 3-2 score and having pushed Halladay to 102 pitches. Unfortunately, the remainder of the Yankee bullpen was unable to keep the Bombers in the ballgame. In relief of Giese, Jose Veras gave up singles to two of the first three batters he faced. With men on the corners, one out and the lefty Matt Stairs due up, Girardi called on his unconventional lefty-killer Edwar Ramirez, but for the first time all year, Ramirez had nothing. He walked stairs, then walked Overbay to force in a run. He then gave up a double to Barajs that plated two more. Disgusted, Girardi had Ramirez intentionally walk Wilkerson to set up the force for groundballer LaTroy Hawkins, but Hawkins picked up where he left off in Baltimore, giving up a two-run double to Eckstein, walking Shannon Stewart, then finally getting the second out of the inning on a sac fly that ran the score to 9-2. The Yankees got one of those runs back, but the game was lost by that point.
The game's 9-3 final unfairly undermines the progress Chamberlain is making toward his goal by leaving a foul taste in the mouth of fans and pundits who watched the game. Similarly, Geise was somewhat unfairly saddled with the loss, tainting his respectable debut, while Hawkins, who came back out for a scoreless eighth, actually lowered his ERA as none of the six runs scored in the seventh were charged to him. Had the game ended with the score 3-2, I imagine the reviews of both Chamberlain and Giese would be more positive than they're likely to be this morning. It thus bears repeating that the two combined to turn in a quality start and gave the Yankees a legitimate chance to beat Roy Halladay.
In other news, Jorge Posada threw out two runners in his extended spring training game yesterday and rejoins the team tonight. He'll be in the lineup no later than tomorrow. Here's hoping its either Hawkins or Veras, and not Chris Britton, who pitched a scoreless ninth last night striking out two, who is jettisoned to make room for him.
Speaking of roster moves, the Jason Lane situation has resolved it self with Lane choosing not to opt out and remaining in Scranton, so Shelley Duncan, who doubled after replacing Jason Giambi, who left the game after fouling a ball of his foot, can relax (then again, is Shelley Duncan capable of relaxing?).
Oh, and Derek Jeter tied Mickey Mantle with 2,415 career hits last night with a ninth-inning single. These milestones pop up a lot, and I don't usually bother to mention them, but the fact that Derek Jeter has as many hits as Mickey Mantle blows my mind.