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Where does Joba stand, and what will 2011 role be?

New York Yankees' relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain leaving

New York Yankees' relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain leaving the field after giving up one run while playing Tampa Bay. (Sept. 23, 2010) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

At age 25, three years removed from his debut as a Yankee Stadium phenomenon, Joba Chamberlain is at a bit of a crossroads with the Yankees.

Neither top starter nor top reliever, he was relegated to pitching in the playoffs only when the Yankees were behind.

He didn't make an appearance in the Yankees' three-game sweep of the Twins in the Division Series. He made three in their six-game loss to the Rangers in the ALCS:

In Game 1, he came in with the Yankees trailing 5-0;

In Game 2, he came in with the Yankees trailing 6-1;

In Game 4, he came in with the Yankees trailing 6-3.

This is not what he or the Yankees imagined when he burst on the scene with a 100-mph fastball and signature fist pump late in the 2007 season.

He was felled by midges in that year's playoffs. Bothered by a sore shoulder during an in-season transition from reliever to starter in 2008. Saddled with the Joba Rules during an inconsistent full season as a starter in 2009. Lost a battle for the fifth starter's job to Phil Hughes in spring training 2010 and then the role as Mariano Rivera's top setup man when the Yankees acquired Kerry Wood in July.

General manager Brian Cashman said during spring training that he still viewed Chamberlain as a starting pitcher. That was seven months ago.

How is he viewed now? Manager Joe Girardi's usage pattern in the playoffs made it clear: He was seen as less vital than Rivera, Wood and David Robertson among Girardi's righthanded relievers. He pitched 31/3 innings, was charged with one run and also allowed one inherited runner to score.

In the aftermath of the Yankees' ouster, Chamberlain was asked if he'd like another crack at starting next spring training.

"It's going to be one of those things where you've got to sit and talk and go from there," he said. "It's hard to think about now. That's probably a question for a couple weeks, a couple of months down the road."

Chamberlain went 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA and three saves in 73 regular-season appearances. He struck out 77 in 712/3 innings.

"I learned a lot," he said. "I learned about having the opportunity to sustain the same spot, getting a lot of perspective from guys that were down there and guys that have done a lot. It's a great year. I learned a lot - probably the most I've learned in one year."

Whatever Chamberlain's role next season, it will cost the Yankees more money. He made just under $500,000 in 2010 and will get a sizable raise in his first arbitration-eligible offseason.

Hughes, meanwhile, will go into 2011 off two poor ALCS starts. He's 24, assured of a rotation spot and will look to build off an 18-8, 4.19 regular season. "I look at this year as a big step for me," he said. "Never having a full year of starting under my belt and doing it this year. It's a positive thing looking to next year. I feel like I can get a lot better at the same time."


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