Joba adjusts to expanded repertoire
In longer role, righty experiments with extra offspeed pitches
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Reds' Edwin Encarnacion wasted pitch after pitch, Joba Chamberlain absorbed a quick reminder of why he'll need more than fastballs and sliders to succeed as a big league starter.
As dominant as Chamberlain can be in the late innings with just two power pitches, the Yankees rookie watched those offerings discarded as Cincinnati's third baseman worked a 14-pitch at-bat in the second inning on Monday.
After trying a changeup just to see what would happen, Chamberlain eventually struck out Encarnacion swinging on a diving curveball. The at-bat may have worked out in Chamberlain's favor, but the battle swelled the right-hander's pitch count and limited him to just 2 1/3 innings in New York's 4-0 victory.
"I'd have got four innings if it wasn't for Encarnacion fouling off 28,000 pitches," Chamberlain said. "He's a good hitter, and that's where he's made his living, with those at-bats. I watched other people swinging at the first and second pitches. It's like, 'Come on, guy. You can save me some pitches.'"
Regardless of the duration of Chamberlain's outing, the 49 pitches (31 strikes) he threw on Monday were an improvement over the last time. In his last outing, on Wednesday, Chamberlain never felt quite right, serving up a long two-run homer to the Twins' Garrett Jones.
"I think he used his fastball a little more tonight, trying to build up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He'll get sharper as Spring Training goes on. He's not as sharp as he's going to be in probably two or three weeks.
"That's how you work on your development. The good thing is, he's continuing to throw strikes and he's not getting frustrated. He continues to pound the strike zone, and that's what you want."
Not everything went perfectly. Chamberlain admitted that he was trying to be too fine again on Monday, especially with his slider. He got ahead of numerous Reds in 0-2 or 1-2 counts, only to watch the batters look at pitches already dropping out of the zone.
When Chamberlain was at his best last season, hitters would swing at sliders believing they were fastballs, only to see them fall out of view. When the pitches dip early, their effectiveness is muted, since hitters can recognize the slider and lay off.
"I've just got to attack the zone more and trust my stuff, and not be too perfect with it," Chamberlain said.
Despite the uncertainty of Chamberlain's role come Opening Day, this spring has been one of adjustments. He wasn't offered much opportunity to tweak from the stretch last season in the Majors -- one of the drawbacks of having few baserunners to hold -- so Chamberlain was pleased with his first-inning pickoff of Reds leadoff man Jay Bruce.
He also has picked up a tip from Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who should be the go-to guy for pitchers looking to induce ground balls. While Wang's power sinker is his bread and butter, he also owns a nasty two-seamer, which Chamberlain adopted last spring.
"It's just about pressure," Chamberlain said. "I feel pretty comfortable with it, which is surprising. The three ground balls I got to the left side [on Monday] were two-seamers. It's not a swing-and-miss pitch, but it's a pitch that's going to get ground balls when you need it."
Still, the most memorable pitch Chamberlain threw all night might have landed down near the Yankees' bullpen. With a runner on and one out in the first inning, Ken Griffey Jr. whipped a Chamberlain offering foul down the right-field line.
Born in 1985 and raised as a budding baseball fan during Griffey Jr.'s height of stardom, Chamberlain couldn't help but be a little awed.
"I've been a huge Griffey fan my whole life," Chamberlain said. "He snapped at that foul ball and, I'm not going to lie, it's probably the coolest thing I've seen in a while. He's still got the best swing in baseball. Good thing it was foul, though."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.