Joba Chamberlain says he can be a starter again, but Yankees laugh it off

Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain taking part in fielding Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain taking part in fielding drills in practice during spring training at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. (Feb. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- In the middle of a quiet, ho-hum early spring training game, Joba Chamberlain, unprompted, inserted himself into the news.

And the Yankees, Joe Girardi especially, did not seem amused.

Chamberlain, after pitching a scoreless fourth inning that included two strikeouts against the Phillies on Tuesday, spoke to reporters in the clubhouse and revived a story left for dead three years ago.

Starting.

But in fairness to Chamberlain, the full context should be disclosed.

The question eliciting the response causing all the excitement was this: Did Chamberlain have aspirations of one day being a closer?

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"At some point, yeah," Chamberlain said. "This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff but it's one of those things where it's like, do you think you have the capability of starting? Yes. Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus-pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes. So I guess I'm trying to have my cake and eat it, too, because I feel I'm good enough to do both. I've proved that I can do both.

"I've been in the bullpen a while but am I confident that if I got a chance to start again somewhere, wherever that's at, do I think I could do it? Without a doubt."

In many ways, the topic was a moot point. Most interesting was the reaction of Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman, who in separate meetings with reporters, wore pained, irritated looks when asked several questions about it, and ultimately responded with sarcasm, as if Chamberlain had expressed a fantasy akin to colonizing Mars.

"First I've heard of it," Girardi said of Chamberlain expressing a desire to start. "I'd like to catch one more game, too."

As the manager walked away and Cashman entered the media scrum, the 48-year-old Girardi said: "Cash, I told them, my answer was, I'd like to catch five innings, that's it, one [more] time. You'll get a kick out of it."

Said Cashman: "We're down an outfield bat right now, too. [We'll] see if he can play center or not."

One rival talent evaluator wasn't outright dismissive of Chamberlain, but questioned the four-pitches-for-strikes claim. "I'd like to see two, first," the scout said.

Chamberlain, a free agent after this season, insisted he wasn't making a pitch to prospective teams trying to sell himself as a starter, a role that he wasn't as bad in as some revisionist history suggests.

The Yankees began easing the 27-year-old into the rotation in 2008 and Chamberlain went 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 12 starts. But he never fully recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in August 2008 and the 2009 season was a roller coaster in which Chamberlain went 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA in 31 starts. That did, however, include an impressive burst after the All-Star break in which the righthander went 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA. But he fizzled and, after losing the fifth starter's job to Phil Hughes in 2010, has been in the bullpen ever since.

"I'm open to anything," Chamberlain said of roles other teams might offer next offseason.

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In terms of relevance to the 2013 Yankees, Chamberlain is being considered for neither closer nor starter, instead the club hoping he can nail down the seventh-inning role.

"I go do my job on the mound, and everything else will take care of itself," Chamberlain said. "I don't know what people see me as. I see myself as somebody who goes out and competes and gives you everything he's got, no matter what role that's in."

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