Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday he still considers Joba Chamberlain to be a starting pitcher even though Chamberlain will begin the season in the bullpen after he was beaten out by Phil Hughes for the team’s fifth-starter spot.
“He’s a starter in the bullpen,” Cashman said in a telephone interview. “He can do both. He’s a starter who was just beaten out in the competition. That’s what we honestly believe, but we only had one spot.”
Chamberlain’s return to the bullpen became official on Thursday when manager Joe Girardi selected Hughes in the fifth-starter derby. Chamberlain will begin his transition with a one-inning outing on Saturday.
“I think Joba could do either one, I really do,” Girardi said. “But right now we think Phil’s a little bit ahead of him as a starter.”
Chamberlain is still just 24 (Hughes is 23). So the book on his career has not yet been written, even if there are those who feel he will never be as good in the rotation as he was in the bullpen when he burst onto the big-league scene in 2007.
Chamberlain, as he left the clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa following a bullpen session, said: “You go with the flow. That’s what I’ve done.”
Chamberlain started 31 games last season and was 9-6 with a 4.78 ERA; many of his outings were shortened due to the Joba Rules. This was supposed to be the year the innings restrictions were finally off. Unless something changes the Yankees have chosen not to see what a fully unleashed Chamberlain can do as a starter – for now.
“If someone wrote a story ‘Joba is a failed starter’ – that’s just not true,” Cashman said. “Bottom line, he’s a major-league starting pitcher.”
Asked if he could envision Chamberlain going into spring training next year as a rotation candidate, Cashman said: “I don’t want even want to muddy the waters” by speculating.
What about the Joba Rules? Do the Yankees regret wasting all of that energy to build him up as a starter only to see Chamberlain back in the bullpen again?
“I don’t think it’s wasted,” Girardi said. “There were things that we wanted to look at. We won a World Series. He was helpful – really, extremely helpful – when Chien-Ming Wang went down. He stepped up and was our fourth starter. Obviously, he’s moving back to the bullpen possibly this year. He’s has success there and we ask all of our guys to try and help us win another championship.”
Girardi informed Chamberlain of his decision early Thursday morning. Girardi said Chamberlain’s reaction was, “ ‘Whatever I can do to help.’ ”
Said Hughes: “[Chamberlain] just said congrats and that was about it . . . There was no bitterness or anything like that.”